Zen becomes transformed by Western society but the society itself also gets transformed by Zen. There are several basic challenges Zen practitioners meet in the West. North Americans and Europeans have implemented new traditions to Zen Buddhism. Annual meeting of representatives of different Zen Buddhism schools if one of such innovations. Such practice is not accepted in Asian counties, where Zen masters did not communicate much with each other. In the annual meetings, organized in the west practitioners and masters from different Zen schools, come together to share their experience and discuss important issues.
As Bodhin Kholhede, an abbot of Rochester Zen Center, states, Within individual Sanghas, too, we have seen a general horizontalization of authority since the first generation of (mostly Asian) Zen teachers founded their centers (Kholhede, 340). There are major changes inside the monasteries and Zen centers, as well. They also get influenced by secular tendency and the balance between spiritual and secular is often moved to the side of secular. Zen originates from China, the country where Confucian traditions have influenced all social, religious and political processes.
Propriety, filial piety and obedience to authority are the main principles of Confucianism, which had great influence on all religious movements and Zen is not an exception. Special relations between masters and disciples became one of the distinctive features of Zen Buddhism. Master had almost unlimited power on his students and there were even cases when masters killed their disciples. It is evident that these principles could not have been accepting by the Western society and North American one. Confucian principles could not be used for Western tradition of Zen.
First Western Zen centers based on these principles could not attract many followers and had to adapt to Western ideology. Zen had to undergo serious transformation in the question concerning an attitude to women. In Asian countries women were not usually allowed to participate in Zen practices, especially they were not allowed to become masters. As Bodhin Kholhede notices, The largely invisible role of women in Asian Buddhism is no secret. Official teacher lineages, or patriarchal lines, are by definition composed exclusively of men (Kholhede).
It is not that women were not seeking for awakening and did not want to commit their life to spiritual quest. Such a role of women in Zen and Buddhism was conditioned by the role of women in Asian society. Women were not considered to have same spiritual and religious abilities as men did. It is evident that such ideas could not have been accepted by Western Zen practitioners. Western women took active part in Zen practice and this finally caused the change in behavior, and attitude towards women. Introduction of women to Zen practice had another important meaning.
Nowadays Western Zen centers try to replace hard and exhausting practices with more moderate ones in order to make them suitable for both, male and female practitioners. The change of female role also influences Zen vocabulary. Some phrases which could have been addressrd to male practitioners only now become gender neutral. For example, the very term patriarchal line, which means the line of masters who succeed each other, is some monasteries is now replace to ancestral line in order to underline that women also can be Zen masters. Western Individualism has become a serious obstacle for Zen in the West.
All Western culture is distinguished by striving to individualism and self-autonomy. While these notions are not widely developed in Asian countries, they have become central in the West. Individualism is peculiar to all Western countries, but it is qualitatively different from the traditional Asian conception of self, in which a person is defined within a nexus of social relations, and dependent on a contextual web consisting of other persons as well as place, time, and history. This definition resonates strongly with Buddhist doctrine, in which the self is so thoroughly interdependent that it has no essential reality (Kholhede, 342).