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Buddhadharma : Fall 2005
buddhadharma| 49 |fall 2005 center delegates gathered to air their feelings about a scandal that had divided the organiza- tion. To keep the conversation safe and open, they used a “talking circle,” modeled on the meeting format of Alcoholics Anonymous. • When two senior teachers at the San Fran- cisco Zen Center refused to end a bitter feud, the organization began a formal grievance procedure. Nearly thirty teachers and abbots spent more than a year working to resolve the conflict, following a rulebook derived from the C. G. Jung Institute. Why would modern Buddhists turn to Native American culture, the Twelve Steps, and Jungian psychology for help resolving internal conflicts? It’s not as if traditional Buddhism lacks direction on the topic – the Vinaya, with its hundreds of rules, has held together monasteries for generations in more than a dozen countries. Still, a growing number of modern dharma teachers seem to have concluded, after decades of struggling to introduce selfless Asian ideals to the West, that the old rules just don’t cut it in the New World. When it comes to dealing with internal disputes, these teachers are experimenting with creative new fusions of Eastern and Western practices. “Given the monastic setting that we had in Asia, and that it was not families, it was not couples, there are certain things missing when we integrate Buddhism into American sanghas,” says Dennis Genpo Merzel Roshi, head teacher at Kanzeon Zen Center and an outspoken advocate of cross-cultural dharma. “If something’s helpful for establishing buddhadharma in the West and if it helps people to awaken, then I’ll use it. I don’t feel hogtied to something j ust because that’s the way they did it in Japan.” That’s something of an understatement for Merzel. In 1999, he developed a practice called the Big Mind process, which boldly combines tradi- tional Zen meditation with psychological techniques developed at the C. G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles, where Merzel studied for two decades while work- ing with his teacher, the late Taizan Maezumi Roshi. In group sessions, Merzel uses a Jungian process for accessing unconscious “shadow” traits – jealousy, hatred, or other “disowned” qualities that contra- dict our self-image – to help students experience the nondual mind of Buddha. He believes the intensely personal Big Mind group process works, and as proof he points to a “dramatic improvement” in the quality of Kanzeon sangha members’ interpersonal relationships. “It’s not that conflict never arises, but it does seem to curtail conflict when we integrate those shadows back into our lives and stop blaming others for them,” he says. Gil Fronsdal, founder of the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, California, also thinks Buddhist sanghas could benefit from a more psy- chological approach to conflict. “Buddhist cultures focus on loving-kindness and compassion and not being caught up in anger, but whenever you have a culture that has those values, it tends to create a shadow,” says Fronsdal. “People tend to hide or avoid anger, because anger is one of the things Buddhists are trying not to express. And that can lead to a culture that’s unsafe.” Fronsdal, like Merzel, has his own prescription for developing an emotionally healthy sangha. He suggests creating community rituals that give the sangha “a process to talk about things that are important, where people get to know each other in a deep way.” In his center, for instance, the sangha regularly breaks into small groups to explore top- ics such as greed, anger, and love. It’s an approach that seems to work well for a small, nonresidential sangha like Fronsdal’s. But for larger dharma cen- ters, where dozens of people may live and work together for years at a time, preventing disputes, or resolving them, may call for more than the occa- sional fifteen-minute heart-to-heart. STephAnieMerzel(Top)phoTogrAphATinSighTMediTATionSocieTyByliBByVigeon;(BoTToM)MichAelconklin