Bankei wrote:Don't get me wrong, I still have a high regard for Zen and Chan - especially the idealised classical version. We just have to be critical of some aspects of it.
There are some great articles out there by some Soto Zen priests from Komazawa University in Tokyo, Hakamaya and Matsumoto - who argue that Zen is not Buddhism (nor is the rest of Japanese Buddhism). There is a book in English called Pruning the Bodhi Tree with some good articles by these and other scholars.
It is known as the "critical buddhism
One of the main ideas, is that most of east asian buddhism (not just Zen, or Soto Zen, but very dominant there) follows the idea of "dharmadhatu" causation. This is from the Huayan / Kegon school, with it's ideas of Buddha nature, and Tathagatagarbha. They argue that this is not in accord with the notion of dependent origination, and is more akin to Brahmanic ideas of causality, focused on a self viz brahma. And, wrong ideas about practice, social ethics, and all manner of common Buddhist notions in Japan, follow as a result. They are often focusing on Japan and it's social ills, and how Buddhism merely emphasizes the status quo.
At the high point, they argue that this "is not Buddhism!" It then gets pretty intense, as you could imagine.
Some of the arguments would also apply to (parts of) Chan, and some other forms of Chinese buddhism too. But certainly not all. There are a couple of reasons. For a start, the basic notion of Buddha nature as it is expressed in Japan is stronger than in China, I think. In Japan, it seems to be the basic "explicit / ultimate teaching", whereas in China, many still say that it is just a provisional teaching, and that the ultimate is dependent origination / sunyata / not self, cf. Nagarjuna style.
An example of this can be seen, in that before the Critical Buddhism made it's hit in Japan, in Taiwan, Yinshun wrote a book called "Studies in Tathagatagarbha", and concluded that Tathagatagarbha is Brahmanic influenced, but is still buddhist as an expedient means alone, but not as an ultimate teaching, whereas he always puts dependent origination and emptiness / not self as the core teaching. This is interesting too, in that one of the most well known Chinese buddhist scholars before Yinshun was Taixu, and he put them the other way around, with Tathagatagarbha on top of the doxographical heap. Nowadays, in China, I think that the large majority would agree with Yinshun over Taixu.
This is not just a different conclusion from the Japanese, because it also shows that the Japanese and Chinese ways of understanding Tathagatagarbha, and Buddha nature, etc. are still a bit different.
It also shows that scholars in japan at least are now reconsidering their basic buddhist tenets in the light of both early buddhism (Pali Nikayas and Chinese Agamas) and also other literature such as the Abhidharma, and Tibetan sources of Mahayana (which tend to put Madhyamaka as ultimate over expedient Tathagatagarbha).