Who runs s local Dharma center or Zen center is the abbot whom his followers might call “Rôshi” which means old master. It is not an official title but simply a name given to the leader who is more like a coach. So now we need to ask, “Is this person right about Buddhism or in particular, right about Zen Buddhism?” A safe answer would be yes and no!
The Rôshi might know many special ceremonies; know how to make robes; do zazen and so on. But when it comes to koans, for example the hua-t’ou (hua-tou), interpreting sermons of the old Zen masters and what the Buddha taught, it starts looking like no. This is because the Zen institution the abbot is from only teaches superstructure.
Zen Buddhism has a very real foundation which shouldn’t be confused with its superstructure. It is awakening to our true nature—I mean really awakening to it which is a difficult process, and based on my own experience falls into the category of mystical experiences which can be other worldly.
Of course, the superstructure of Zen dominates. Every beginner who steps into a Buddhist temple or monastery, or joins a Zen center is not going to learn about the actual foundation of Zen but, instead, is going to learn all about the superstructure. This is all right for a while, but its limits soon become apparent after a year or so. The institution of Zen can’t really deliver the Mind-ground. It cannot give us kensho (see our nature). It can’t adequately prepare us for how we are to realize the Mind-ground, or the same, our Buddha-nature.
Early Zennists lived in the mountains. For them the cities and the emperor’s court were a heavy distraction that could not be overcome and might cause spiritual blindness. At some point in the career of a budding Zennist, life in the mountains was necessary if not required. In other words, spiritual retreats far from the madding crowd are required. Even the Buddha praised such retreats.
Missing from Zen is the long spiritual retreat which could last up to three years or more. It is from the retreat that we first start to enter the real foundation of Zen’s superstructure. There is much to gain from such a retreat. We are faced with ourself, constantly. We can't run away. We have to penetrate through our illusory body until we suddenly come upon our true nature which is both eternal and deathless.