Many of us who became enamored with Zen during the 1960s read Alan Watts. My teacher had me read Watt’s first book, The Spirit of Zen, which was published when he was only twenty-one (he wrote the preface to the first edition when he was only twenty). I could follow Watts somewhat but for me his book never seemed to crystalize the more rudimentary content of Zen (this crystallization was to come much, much later).
Understandably, at the time, Watts was little more than a struggling student of Zen like many of us were. Much of the spirit of Zen that went into The Spirit of Zen came from D.T. Suzuki who was a Rinzai Zennist. Suzuki, incidentally, didn’t care that much for Dogen Zenji and for that matter, Soto Zen. He saw Dogen’s “just sitting,” in a nutshell, as being altogether quietist and a form of mental stasis. (Having done a fair amount of “just sitting” I agree with D.T. Suzuki, in fact, without direct, intuitive entry into pure Mind there is no Zen and for that matter, no Buddhism).
Later, all this became ironic for me given the fact that my first teacher of Zen was an abbot from the Soto tradition who had studied with Hodo Tobase and after his tenure with Tobase, was subsequently made an abbot by Takashina Rosen, primate of Sotoshu. What I had been introduced to in the way of Zen had been institutionalized for want of a better term. Putting it more bluntly, there was hardly a jot of spirituality in institutionalized Zen. Certainly no spirit.
The Zen I had become witness to seemed to demand a closed, obedient mind which I was not used to. This was not the spirit of Zen. To quote Watts, “A proper exposition of Zen should ‘tease us out of thought’, and leave the mind like an open window instead of a panel of stained glass” or better yet, a closed shoji screen. At the time, I was beginning to learn just how important a mind that was open was. There is no real Zen without it. Later, as I searched for pure Mind and came to realize the true spirit of Zen I have Watts and D.T. Suzuki to thank for helping me to keep an open mind about Zen.