Someone meditates for a long time and has a profound insight into the nature of reality. He or she then decides to try and teach that insight and how to reach it to others. This goes fine for a little while, but then an institution is established to try and make the lessons more standardized, efficient and accessible. At this point certain people notice that there are opportunities for power, authority and money to be had within that institution so they get involved. Once these weasels start running things the original purpose is lost. Then someone else has to come along, call bullshit on the institution and start the whole thing up again as an outsider. The same pattern occurs with predictable regularity.
Right now in the West, we are in one of these transitional periods. Back in Japan, Zen has become an orthodox institution that offers its members opportunities for power, authority and sometimes even money. Disgusted with this situation, a few sincere practitioners packed up and moved to America and Europe. They found some genuine students and started a few temples. But now those temples are growing in stature and importance, and ambitious people are starting to see that they might be able to climb their institutional ladders and become powerful. The rot is setting in.
This process is still in its infancy, so things haven’t gotten too bad just yet. Whenever I complain about the organizations who are trying to standardize the Zen curriculum into mind-numbing uselessness I’m always told something like, “Aw, but these guys aren’t a giant evil institution! They’re just a nice group of low-key people who want to do good things.” Which I’m sure is more-or-less true. But you don’t have to be a genius to see where things are heading.
Brad is, of course, paraphrasing a famous passage from The Book of Panta Rheism, which says, “All philosophical systems of men are mere castles of sand before the ancient wisdom of the ocean; bow ye before the power of the moon’s gravitational pull and be sore afraid.” Man-made religions arise and fall, ossify and regenerate, until the sacred waters tire of their foolishness and wash them all away. Incidentally, this explains the omnipresence of great flood myths in cultures around the world.