Western Zen

Western Zen is mainly a lay-movement, though grounded in formal lineages. Its Japanese background is in mainly lay-oriented new religious movements, especially the Sanbo Kyodan. Though a number of zen-buddhist monasteries exist in the western world, most practice takes place in Zen centers throughout the western world. Koné sees three issues in the emerging western Zen tradition: sustainability, legitimicay, and authority.[124]
  • Sustainability: Zen groups and organizations need income to survive. "Covert centers" offer meditation courses, for which they charge a fee. These groups "often experience a high turnover, with a core of long-time practitioners".[124] "Residential centers" have a limited number of long term residents, with a high commitment, who serve a larger lay community. Income is generated by donations. Publicity is low-key, since a rapid growth would threaten the continuity.[124]
  • Legitimacy: Zen groups need legitimacy, which is "social recognition and acceptance".[124] The primary means for this is the "master-disciple relationship" and the "central reference to transmission".[124] Various attitudes toward the tradition are possible: emulating the traditions, adaptation of the tradition, a critical stance toward the tradition, and borrowing from the tradition.[124]
  • Authority: two patterns are discernable, namely spiritual achievement and "spiritual friendship", and "spiritual hierarchy".[124] Smaller groups tend toward egalitarity and spiritual friendship, where-as larger groups tend toward more hierarchical organisation.[124]
A recurrent issue has been the reliance on charismatic authority and the resulting teacher scandals.[129][130] Sandra Bell has analysed the scandals at Vajradhatu and the San Francisco Zen Center and concluded that these kinds of scandals are
... most likely to occur in organisations that are in transition between the pure forms of charismatic authority that brought them into being and more rational, corporate forms of organization".[129]
Robert Sharf also mentions charisma from which institutional power is derived, and the need to balance charismatic authority with institutional authority.[128] Elaborate analyses of these scandals are made by Stuart Lachs, who mentions the uncritical acceptance of religious narratives, such as lineages and dharma transmission, which aid in giving uncritical charismatic powers to teachers and leaders.[130][147][148][122][149]
The scandals eventually lead to rules of conduct by the American Zen Teachers Association, and the reorganising of Zen Centers,[150] to spread the management of those centers over a wider group of people and diminish the role of charismatic authority. Another affect was the split in various Zen organisations, such as Robert Aitken leaving the Sanbo Kyodan, and Joko Beck leaving the White Plum Sangha.