Stuart Lachs (independent scholar, Oslo/New York).
When the Saints Come Marching In: Modern Day Zen Hagiography.
Recently the popular Buddhist magazine Tricycle presented biographical articles about two modern day Zen teachers: the American Zen teacher Walter Nowick coming from the Japanese tradition and the recently deceased Taiwanese Chan Master Sheng Yen. Both are presented as iconic, fully enlightened Chan/Zen Masters, following the model of the classical ideal from the Sung dynasty (960-1279). In examining their actual lived lives, it can be shown how real people are sanitized and transformed into hagiographic figures. Mechanisms very similar to those that created iconic Chan Masters during the Sung dynasty continue to be at work today, creating modern day fully perfected Masters. This talk will only examine the Tricycle case of Master Sheng Yen.
Stuart Lachs. Photo: Ute Hüsken 2011
About the lecturer
Stuart Lachs was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. He attended Brooklyn College, where he received a B.A. and M.S., majoring in mathematics. He worked at Bell Labs in the mathematical physics department for a year and afterward, in the ship design industry for a few years. He started Zen practice in 1967 in NYC and attended the first training period at Tassajara monastery, San Francisco. He was member of the Zen Studies Society NYC for 2 1/2 years. Then he became member of the the Moonspring Hermitage (Maine), where he was for many years head monk, head of the Board of Directors, and in charge of new members, instructing them in meditation, zendo protocol, and the ways of the group.
After eleven years he returned to NYC where joined the Chan Meditation Group under the leadership of Shifu Sheng-yen. After a few years he was given much responsibility, including giving private interviews during seven day retreats and running classes when Shifu returned to Taiwan, every other three months. From 1982–1999, he traveled frequently, spending three months in a Korean Monastery (Songgwang Sa), some time in Japan at both a Rinzai and Soto temples, and two stays at Shifu’s monastery in Taiwan. During one of the stays in Taiwan, he did a solitary thirty day retreat. He also visited the Diamond Sangha in Hawaii twice, spent two months with the London Zen Group, and the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Ukiah, Ca. for two few month stays among other places.
Some where in the mid 1990’s he became interested in an academic look at Zen, which included institutional history, myth making, and the interaction of Zen and the state. He also became interested in the sociology of religion. His articles are the result of years of practicing with Zen groups combined with his academic and sociological studies. Since 1999 he has practiced with a few friends or on his own.