“Kill the Buddhas, Kill the patriarchs”: Zen Buddhism from a critical perspective
Ever since it was first introduced to the West in the late nineteenth-century, Zen had a significant influence on various aspects of Western culture. In the West, Zen was depicted as a “pure experience”, which transcends any historical or cultural context – the essence of spiritualism. This depiction of Zen is, by and large, the product of the work of D.T. Suzuki and several other Japanese thinkers who propagated Zen as a kind of “Eastern spiritualism”; a counter response to Western material and intellectual superiority. However, this rhetoric had a longstanding influence on many Western intellectuals such as Carl Jung, Paul Carus, Eugen Herrigel, to name but a few. Consequently, for several decades there was hardly any critical research being done on Zen.
However, during the early 90's of the twentieth-century, we have witnessed a change in this trend, when several scholars started applying a cultural/historical criticism to the study of Zen. Scholars like Yanagida Seizan, Bernard Faure and Griffith Foulk, have shown that Zen is not essentially different from other Buddhist sects. As oppose to its popular image, Zen turned out to have ceremonies, rituals, canonical texts and even political ambitions.
This course has two main objectives: first, to reexamine the popular image of Zen as it is known in the West today. Second, to discuss Zen as one of several existing Buddhist traditions in light of the research that was done in the field in the last two decades. The course will provide a critical history of Zen's development from Tang China to contemporary Japan. We will discuss some of the major elements which became closely identified with Zen like: zazen, koan, awakening etc., from both traditional and critical perspectives, in an attempt to reevaluate the Zen tradition.