One of the issues raised by Zen teacher John Crook in the current newsletter of the Western Chan Fellowship is that of public and private spirituality. Is it enough to have a personal practice, and trust it will change you, reducing the unhelpful parts of your personality and strengthening the helpful ones? Or do we need to create social structures – be it anything from a local meditation group to a monastery – for purposes of mutual learning, mutual challenge, mutual correction?
I’ve heard so many times ‘What you believe is a personal matter, I’m
against any organised religion. Organised religion is the source of all
evil’. There’s a legitimate thought there, but it’s often said
thoughtlessly and parrot-fashion. If three people want to meet
regularly to meditate or study, and they pool some funds to hire a room
or buy teabags, then that is organised religion.
As soon as you have it, however, you have the challenge of not
allowing it to become self-perpetuating and undermining the aims that
brought it about (‘Who’s going to be leader? How much money do we put
in? Who looks after it?’).
John is in no doubt that the crisis of the
time requires us to create some social form that is there to offer what
we have to those who can use it, those who need guidance and those who
might otherwise gravitate to less desirable pursuits. This isn’t
proselytising, but it’s making yourself available in a way that many of
us would prefer not to. And sure there are issues like leadership,
hierarchy (what’s wrong with hierarchy?), power and disappointment; but
if we can’t hold ourselves in front of them what is our practice worth?