Dwelling: variations on a theme in a Sōtō Zen Buddhist community in Italy
(University of Milano-Bicocca)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines, firstly, the ongoing process of re-interpretation of the concept of “sacred place” operated by a Zen Buddhist monastery in Italy. Then, it analyses how that model is related to local perspectives through the notion of “village”.
Paper long abstract:
The aim of this paper is to explore how a Sōtō Zen Buddhist community in Italy interpreted the concept of "sacred place" and "village" in relation to, on one hand, the Japanese monastic life pattern and, on the other, to the local context. Since the 1960s, the spread of Zen Buddhism in Europe hinged on the dissemination of myriads of ephemeral "meditation centres". The contingent form of the early proselytism and the anti-institutional attitude of the newly European Buddhists strongly influenced their concept of "sacred space". Usually, the meditation centres were set up in rented places as gyms and garages, or in private rooms and apartments. Even today, with the progressive installation of institutional Buddhism, most of the zen dōjō (道場) is constituted by relatively small places, blended in the urban landscape. The community where I conduct my fieldwork was founded in the early 1980s. Contrary to the common trends in European Buddhism, the saṁgha began to elaborate a deep reflection on the concept of "dwelling" in a sacred space (ji 寺). The monastery and temple started to implement the physical configuration of the space through a symbolic architecture that not only pursued the traditional temple layout (shichidō-garan 七堂伽藍) but also - with the construction of tiny little houses - tried to recover the concept of "village" to become the gravitational centre of an extended community where laypeople also can find their physical and symbolic home.