In the tenth and eleventh century Chinese Sung dynasty, a meditation practice community of householders, artists, farmers, poets, intellectuals and merchants came together without any formal, official sanction in what was known as ts’ao-pen ch’an, a kind of “grassroots zen” movement. Free from the monastic hierarchy, and priestly professionals, with no formal lineage, and no listing of masters, there is little formal documentation outside social history. In the Korean Buddhist tradition, such “grassroots Buddhism” is known as minjung pulygo.
We practitioners of the Empty Mountain Sangha, like these Chinese “grassroots forbears,” come together to practice meditation and to discuss the questions that have intimate meaning for us, without the need of official religious sanction or the seeking of absolute answers in the texts or words of the ancients nor contemporary “masters.”
Our consensus-driven model of community is based upon “power sharing,” and not the old patriarchal authoritarianism of Asian buddhism. Such a structure, we hope, will encourage responsibility sharing, and communal decision-making. ALL community policy is openly discussed at community planning meetings where they are voted upon rather than coming unilaterally from the “teacher.” We are consciously engaged with working to see structural racism, sexism and other forms of cultural oppression in order to overcome and transform such conditioning.
In this way, our “grassroots” community attempts to integrate meditation practice and study with daily life: family, work, activism, creativity… We reject the metaphysical promise of nirvanic release – including the idea of eliminating all desire. There is no god we seek to intervene in our lives, no transmission from a guru or master we seek for divine guidance. The responsibility rests with each of us in our own experience, and within the community of critical inquiry.