American Zen?

I suppose I should clarify what it is I’m trying to do here. I’m all too aware of how “Zen” gets applied to almost anything as marketing shorthand for “simple” or “uncluttered” or “exotic.”

By “American Zen” I don’t mean a kind of fast-food or attention-deficit Zen, but approaching basic Zen Buddhist principles via American philosophical traditions. I just see many parallels between what I learn in my Zen studies and what I’ve read in Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman and other American writers. So I want to explore making Zen principles available through American writers.

Author Erik Reece covered simliar ground from a Christian perspective in his book An American Gospel. I had suspected for a long time that there was an American spiritual tradition to be found outside of established, dogmatic institutions. I was thrilled to see Reece had found much of it in the New England Transcendentalists. I’ll be adding the tradition of American Freethought (Paine, Ingersoll, Twain) to the mix which, to me, is very Zen.

All this may seen at odds with making a “simpler, American Zen,” but that’s the other challenge for me. I think, at it’s heart, Zen is simple (which is not the same as easy). I think that all the scriptures and so forth can actually be distractions. I won’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, but I believe there can be a simpler approach to Zen that would make it available to more people without watering it down or letting it slide into the realm of pop psychology.

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