The Great Dragon of Zen

by | Jul 13, 2021

Reflection from Spring Ango 2021 & Annual ZGO Minnesota Gathering

The Great Dragon of Zen is in danger of becoming old, shrunken, toothless, clawless, fireless, a fantasy dragon, dozing and dormant in the antiquary. This tired old dragon lives in caves isolated from the world practicing ancient rituals, going over and over the same 1,700 koan stories, reading texts and commentaries as if they were esoteric brain games to stave off dementia. Harada Roshi, recent great ancestor in our lineage, warned us that people mistake a wave or two for the entire ocean of Zen.

The True Dragon of Zen rises from the earth with the Bodhisattvas when called forth by suffering – human suffering and more, the suffering of the entire entwined, co-creating, interdependent multiverse. “Dogen never lost sight of the larger picture in which human and nonhuman beings engage[d] in an ongoing communion through their respective languages/expressions …in a shared salvific project through their ‘vast and giddy karmic consciousness.’” (Kim, DMT, p.123)

Our vow is to practice enlightenment and be a field of benefaction in the vast and giddy karmic multiverse. “For Dogen’s part, his Zen shifts attention from the simple interior state of the mind to all the realities of the self and the universe – the anthropo-cosmic totality – that are precisely what he means by body-mind (shinjin).” (Kim, DMT, p.99)

We lay claim to a path that promises healing, salvation, and liberation. To manifest this claim, we must engage the forces of greed, anger, and ignorance that shackle our momentum of space/time, struggling to find how and where Zen’s gifts are applicable and needed, and in what form NOW. What language needs be spoken. What practices are useful and how do they need to be made more flexible and adaptive. What do we need to learn beyond what is handed down to be of any use at all in this battle for human and planetary survival? This is what Dogen Zenji means when he exhorts us that “Buddhas go beyond Buddhas.” We need to master what is handed down and to create what is needed in our space/time momentum.

The Zen Garland Order Teachers’ Circle is trying to move into a collective that can ask such questions, can shape our practices to manifest “service as a way of being” and “nurture a culture of cooperation” for our place in the Dharma River. Our sanghas attract the kinds of people who already are manifesting these efforts in their lives because this is who we are. This is not some self-congratulatory celebration. It is a call of joy and commitment from us to us as we rise from the earth.

Roshi Paul Genki Kahn, Spiritual Director
The Zen Garland Order
Savannah Ancient Oak Temple

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