Are Tendai practices of "Marathon Monks" Asceticism?

Are Tendai practices of "Marathon Monks" Asceticism?

Postby Sara H » Thu Apr 25, 2013 7:00 am

I thought this would be an interesting question to ask.

Recently, a person posted a topic here:
viewtopic.php?f=77&t=12420

In which they viewed such practices as an example of enlightened behavior.

However, while such feats are amazing in a physical sense, they parallel such extremes of behavior as practiced in asceticism, such as pushing the body to extremes of endurance, and only eating a minimum amount of food, or the barest minimum of sleep.

Such practices were practiced by the Buddha before he found a Middle Way and renounced such practices as extremes.

So the question is, are such practices extremes, and asceticism?

The Buddha likened such things as that to a string on a musical instrument, wound so tight it would likely be close to snapping, and said such things were unnecessary and unhelpful to spiritual development.

He chose a simple middle path of meditation.

Perhaps somebody from the Tendai school can answer why the monks there do such things when the Buddha Himself cautioned against them.

Even from a medical standpoint, any physician looking at such a practice, where a person was doing a practice where the calories they expended per day, far exceeded the amount of intake per day, such as the case with just a single small meal of rice per day, combined with extreme sleep deprivation; most any medical professional would view such a practice as extremely dangerous.



Image
The monks walk more than 80 kilometers per day
get only 2 hour of sleep, per night, walk for 17 hours per day
for 3 and 1/2 months
42 k is an olympic marathon.
They eat just a daily rice ball and a bowl of noodles.
for 100 days in homemade straw sandals that leave their feet blistered, bruised and broken. In the middle of this, they pause to do an ordeal where they must go nine days where the monk cannot eat, drink, or sleep. There are monks on either side of them, to keep them awake. They sometimes die doing this marathon activity, and if they fail to complete it, they carry a rope and a knife to use so they must immediately hang or kill themselves by ritual disembowelment.

If this is not asceticism I don't know what is.
I suppose I don't need to mention that suicide is completely unBuddhist.

Image
An image depicting a statue of an emaciated Buddha.
The Buddha described pushing oneself to physical extremes as asceticism,
which he described as an unhelpful extreme, contrasting the other extreme of a life of luxury and softness. Image retrieved from azibaza.com
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Re: Are Tendai practices of "Marathon Monks" Asceticism?

Postby coldwater » Thu Apr 25, 2013 10:00 am

Short answer: Yes and no. Depends who is doing it, when, and why.
*I am sure you noticed you posed a question in the beginning of your post...then answered it yourself in the end of your post. So it isn't clear to me what you'd like to know. Was this deliberate?

In any case, my long opinion-answer...

I am biased on the topic. I find it inspiring and motivating to practice when I think about these monks. These are not athletes doing athleticism. They are ordinary people accomplishing something very difficult and extraordinary...and causes me to self-reflect on what I am doing with my own life. How much am I committed to a spiritual vision and path? How much will I persevere despite difficulties? How much gratitude do I have for the community- both sentient and natural world - that supports my life? How can I give back and respect it?

The Buddha did not reject the practices you cite as extreme- sleep deprivation, minimized food intake and enduring extreme conditions. He did approve of them specifically as 13 non-mandatory ascetic practices for monastics to take up called 'dhutangas'. Each is an antidote to certain attitudes and attachments. Asceticism wasn't rejected wholly, just the self-mortifying kind. Other examples from traditions- the Chan monastery of City of Ten Thousand Buddhas has a requirement of their monastics to not lay down and to only take one meal a day at noon. Some Thai monasteries and others have similar practices as well. Often enough Seon monastics in Korea like to offer their fingers in candles to Buddha. I think 'ascetic' parallels can be found in most streams of Buddhism. There are also stories of Chan monastics in China (oh and 4 in the US!) going on long extensive walking or bowing pilgrimages. It might also be noted that before viharas were established monastics in Buddha's time were walking all day from place to place. They were wanderers. I wonder what the average kilometers a day was as they wandered from village to village? Extensive walking practices aren't new or special to Tendai. People have also been doing marathon sitting...but that isn't nearly as exciting to document as walking in circles on a mountain.

I don't know if in your tradition you have the traditional Vinaya studies of Buddhism to compare with. Some folks are not aware of these dhutanga teachings. All forms of Buddhism today are divergent in their own unique ways from any constructed "original Buddhism" of the Buddha's time. Time, place, culture, practitioners etc. have all had their influences, so some differences occur.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhutanga for reference in case readers are unaware of this aspect.

The primary example of self-mortification from the hagiography of Buddha was that he was eating one grain a day for quite some time and nearing death. He was completely emaciated. This was in a culture where some may have been trying to out do each other on physical feats like holding arms up until they wither or spending day surrounded by fires or cutting off their genitals or what have you. The intention, and outcome, of those practices and contemporary ascetic practices are different- both in traditions, institutional views and individuals.

Asceticism is very relative I believe...in my own part of America in this century...many people consider monastic practice- "middle way practice" - to be ascetic, archaic or extreme. Some people I know feel celibacy, not drinking and being vegetarian is really too much. Not having a monastery with central heating is extremist. Asceticism 'then' and asceticism 'now' are different. I feel both in practice and in social context/meaning. Kaiohogyo doesn't seem extreme or even ascetic to me. It does seem like it would be internally confronting and I am interested in how it ( like many other Buddhist practices) becomes a sandpaper of self-reflection than softens our rough edges and polishes us up.

A whole discussion about what constitutes asceticism, when and why it is useful or harmful could be made. It can cut both ways and can be as helpful as it can be dangerous for sure. Ascetic practice isn't for everyone...but not all dharma doors are. Which I believe is why the Buddha made the 13 dhutangas optional rather than mandatory.

my thoughts on kaihogyo specifically:
The statistics you cited are not quite accurate. I imagine they were drawn from the "marathon monks" book? According to what I know from my teacher...that books gives a slightly sensationalized version...it isn't nearly as "harsh" as people make it out to be. Roughly...they mostly walk 30k or 40k a day for about 800 of the 1000 days. Not 80k until the very end and only for 100 days. They do not walk 17 hours a day. More like 7-8 hours or so...sometimes longer. It isn't marathon running. They aren't 'marathon monks'. They eat more than a rice ball and a bowl of noodles in a day. They also nap quite a bit. The last people to have died was in the 19th century or earlier. That is more an expression of determination. Not just anyone is allowed to do 1000 days. It is not considered a practice for the masses by any means. More commonly people do 100 day practice and may apply for the longer practice. There is a certain level of screening that takes place for suitable candidates, it isn't beneficial for everyone and not promoted to be standard practice. The fasting period is brief and intense rather than a long drawn out slow death practice like the Buddha was involved in. It is done quickly and not a sustained "lifestyle". The goal isn't death but has been described as 'near-death-like'. I think after some generations of folks practicing this they've got it down to a controlled technique. If you've heard of Tibetan Nyung Nays...some people practice it for 200ish days in a row at times. Nyung Nays can easily feel death-like at points during the practice. Doiri, as it appears, is a bit more intense and much shorter but the practice has some similarities to Nyung Nay (sleep deprivation, no food, no water, lots of mantra).

Either way the aim isn't self mortification, rejection of the body, physical endurance or being a 'spiritual athlete'. People who focus entirely on that have missed the internal process of devotion completely. Kaihogyo is equally for the people that support the practitioners and once a monk has completed the practice they are to share their practice and serve a community. They become encouraging for others to continue to persevere and accomplish the practices of a Bodhisattva with great energy. So a major part of it is perseverance, not enduring. Bringing circumstances to the limit so the practitioner must rely on the power of Fudo Myoo, their own will, faith and spiritual strength.

Of course some Japanese cultural aspects find their way in and things like "kill yourself if you fail to complete the commitment you made and let everyone down". Luckily they've dropped that practice and it is more a formality. Much in the same way in Vajrayana you swear not to reveal the secrets or your head will split open. Or when the Buddha told Brahmins in one of the Digha Nikaya Suttas they'd better answer him truthfully or Vajrapani would split their skulls seven ways. Perhaps it gives an idea of the seriousness of the situation and some people just got zealous. Like burning your fingers off because the Lotus Sutra says so. Or cutting your eye lids off so you can stay 'awake'. Maybe some people are Bodhisattvas though and see the benefit in doing it for others.

Suicide is very unBuddhist. It is one of the things among many a Bodhisattva may do to help manifest the Dharma and transform people's hearts.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thich_Quang_Duc

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Re: Are Tendai practices of "Marathon Monks" Asceticism?

Postby Seishin » Thu Apr 25, 2013 11:33 am

It may be worth remembering that not all Tendai monks go through such asceticism (and yes it is asceticism). Tendai is a very large eclectic school and monks can choose which aspect of the Dharma to make their lifetime practice.

Many things that modern day Buddhists from all schools can seem to be going against what the Buddha said. As Buddhism spread, it took on various attributes and practices from the local traditions. In this case, Japanese Buddhism and Shinto fused and shared practices. As to why they practice kaihogyo, I think it would be better to ask someone who practices asceticism.

Gassho,
Seishin

PS, people generally don't kill themselves these days. I think this was a Japanese thing rather than a Buddhist thing, but I can't say for sure.
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Re: Are Tendai practices of "Marathon Monks" Asceticism?

Postby Seishin » Thu Apr 25, 2013 11:42 am

coldwater wrote:
Either way the aim isn't self mortification, rejection of the body, physical endurance or being a 'spiritual athlete'. People who focus entirely on that have missed the internal process of devotion completely. Kaihogyo is equally for the people that support the practitioners and once a monk has completed the practice they are to share their practice and serve a community. They become encouraging for others to continue to persevere and accomplish the practices of a Bodhisattva with great energy. So a major part of it is perseverance, not enduring. Bringing circumstances to the limit so the practitioner must rely on the power of Fudo Myoo, their own will, faith and spiritual strength.


Very good post by Coldwater. I'd also like to add that such practices (like 108 prostrations) are in many ways about killing the ego, than they are about killing the physical body.

I quite often say to myself "I couldn't do that".

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Seishin.
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Re: Are Tendai practices of "Marathon Monks" Asceticism?

Postby Seishin » Thu Apr 25, 2013 11:43 am

For more info on Kaihogyo http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/nfile/2354

Gassho,
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Re: Are Tendai practices of "Marathon Monks" Asceticism?

Postby plwk » Thu Apr 25, 2013 11:53 am

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Re: Are Tendai practices of "Marathon Monks" Asceticism?

Postby jikai » Thu Apr 25, 2013 12:08 pm

"and if they fail to complete it, they carry a rope and a knife to use so they must immediately hang or kill themselves by ritual disembowelment.
"

When you said that it is un-buddhist to kill oneself, in a funny sense you were right. That is largely the point-i.e One must be dedicated to such an extent that failing to complete the practice would result in one performing the worst possible act. Therefore, one 'has no choice' but to strive on. Keep in mind the fact that the Kaihogyo is a practice designed to inspire, to do that which most of us do not. I imagine in many ways that the clause regarding killing oneself is as much a phsychological Gyo as much as anything else.

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Jikai.
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Re: Are Tendai practices of "Marathon Monks" Asceticism?

Postby Jikan » Thu Apr 25, 2013 1:32 pm

jikai wrote:"and if they fail to complete it, they carry a rope and a knife to use so they must immediately hang or kill themselves by ritual disembowelment.
"

When you said that it is un-buddhist to kill oneself, in a funny sense you were right. That is largely the point-i.e One must be dedicated to such an extent that failing to complete the practice would result in one performing the worst possible act. Therefore, one 'has no choice' but to strive on. Keep in mind the fact that the Kaihogyo is a practice designed to inspire, to do that which most of us do not. I imagine in many ways that the clause regarding killing oneself is as much a phsychological Gyo as much as anything else.

Gassho,
Jikai.


I'm inclined to take this point of view as well.
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Re: Are Tendai practices of "Marathon Monks" Asceticism?

Postby Sara H » Thu Apr 25, 2013 3:08 pm

Jikan wrote:
jikai wrote:"and if they fail to complete it, they carry a rope and a knife to use so they must immediately hang or kill themselves by ritual disembowelment.
"

When you said that it is un-buddhist to kill oneself, in a funny sense you were right. That is largely the point-i.e One must be dedicated to such an extent that failing to complete the practice would result in one performing the worst possible act. Therefore, one 'has no choice' but to strive on. Keep in mind the fact that the Kaihogyo is a practice designed to inspire, to do that which most of us do not. I imagine in many ways that the clause regarding killing oneself is as much a phsychological Gyo as much as anything else.

Gassho,
Jikai.


I'm inclined to take this point of view as well.


I don't suppose it ever occurred to both of you, that a sleep-deprived, severely exhausted person, isn't exactly sober?
Combine that with the pressure that if they fail, they must kill themselves, and a religious undertaking and devotion, and a Japanese culture that traditionally honors suicide for failure, that maybe that might not be a sane combination?

I'm sorry but this isn't just psychological, people actually die doing this. There's nothing psychological about that.

And the death order is real. No sane person would tell someone who was going to be severely sleep deprived and exhausted that if they failed in this religious endeavor, they must kill themselves, and then give then an actual knife and a rope to do it, if they didn't mean it.

I'm sorry, but the Buddha certainly did not teach that to practice what he taught, we needed to push our bodies to physical extremes, and then if we failed to do that, we must kill ourselves by sticking a knife in our stomach.

I don't know what that is, but it's certainly not what the Buddha taught.

In fact, it's exactly what he said not to do.

In Gassho,

Sara
"Life is full of suffering. AND Life is full of the Eternal
IT IS OUR CHOICE
We can stand in our shadow, and wallow in the darkness,
OR
We can turn around.
It is OUR choice." -Rev. Basil

" ...out of fear, even the good harm one another. " -Rev. Dazui MacPhillamy
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Re: Are Tendai practices of "Marathon Monks" Asceticism?

Postby Seishin » Thu Apr 25, 2013 4:16 pm

Sara H wrote:
Jikan wrote:
jikai wrote:"and if they fail to complete it, they carry a rope and a knife to use so they must immediately hang or kill themselves by ritual disembowelment.
"

When you said that it is un-buddhist to kill oneself, in a funny sense you were right. That is largely the point-i.e One must be dedicated to such an extent that failing to complete the practice would result in one performing the worst possible act. Therefore, one 'has no choice' but to strive on. Keep in mind the fact that the Kaihogyo is a practice designed to inspire, to do that which most of us do not. I imagine in many ways that the clause regarding killing oneself is as much a phsychological Gyo as much as anything else.

Gassho,
Jikai.


I'm inclined to take this point of view as well.


I don't suppose it ever occurred to both of you, that a sleep-deprived, severely exhausted person, isn't exactly sober?
Combine that with the pressure that if they fail, they must kill themselves, and a religious undertaking and devotion, and a Japanese culture that traditionally honors suicide for failure, that maybe that might not be a sane combination?

I'm sorry but this isn't just psychological, people actually die doing this. There's nothing psychological about that.

And the death order is real. No sane person would tell someone who was going to be severely sleep deprived and exhausted that if they failed in this religious endeavor, they must kill themselves, and then give then an actual knife and a rope to do it, if they didn't mean it.

I'm sorry, but the Buddha certainly did not teach that to practice what he taught, we needed to push our bodies to physical extremes, and then if we failed to do that, we must kill ourselves by sticking a knife in our stomach.

I don't know what that is, but it's certainly not what the Buddha taught.

In fact, it's exactly what he said not to do.

In Gassho,

Sara


Sara, people don't kill themselves any more. Many people have failed the Kaihogyo and have lived. These days, the carrying of the knife and robe is symbolic.
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Re: Are Tendai practices of "Marathon Monks" Asceticism?

Postby PorkChop » Thu Apr 25, 2013 4:34 pm

Sara H wrote:I don't suppose it ever occurred to both of you, that a sleep-deprived, severely exhausted person, isn't exactly sober?


Yeah, but renouncing the lying posture is one of those austerities recommended by the Buddha according to just about every tradition.
There's also the precedent of only sleeping 2 hours a night and constant admonishment against sleeping too much.

Given that we're discussing the tradition of Tendai, I think it's important to note that the founder of Chinese T'ien T'ai (Zhiyi), referred to himself as Sramana Zhiyi (ie "Zhiyi the Ascetic"). Zhiyi also recommended the practice of Pratyutpanna ("Constant Walking"), straight from the Mahayana Pratyutpanna Sutra (a Pure Land practice) - which recommends nonstop walking for 90 days. I see the Kaihogyo as a direct extension of that.

There's a difference between a combination of sleep deprivation & exhaustion and the self-mortifying acts of starving until death (the most common, which Mahavira did), laying on a rock naked in the hot sun (deliberately giving yourself severe sunburns) day after day, and some of the other extreme acts of asceticism that other sramanas were doing.

A certain number of kids die playing American football every year, I'm not sure I'd hang the label of self-mortifying asceticism on that either.
I think the point is to completely break down your mental defenses and leave you open to a realization, not too unlike Ch'an master Hsing Yun's revelation upon a cup falling & shattering. Wisdom religions in Japan have a long history of that type of thing.
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Re: Are Tendai practices of "Marathon Monks" Asceticism?

Postby Jikan » Thu Apr 25, 2013 5:32 pm

Sara H wrote:I don't suppose it ever occurred to both of you, that a sleep-deprived, severely exhausted person, isn't exactly sober?
Combine that with the pressure that if they fail, they must kill themselves, and a religious undertaking and devotion, and a Japanese culture that traditionally honors suicide for failure, that maybe that might not be a sane combination?

I'm sorry but this isn't just psychological, people actually die doing this. There's nothing psychological about that.

And the death order is real. No sane person would tell someone who was going to be severely sleep deprived and exhausted that if they failed in this religious endeavor, they must kill themselves, and then give then an actual knife and a rope to do it, if they didn't mean it.

I'm sorry, but the Buddha certainly did not teach that to practice what he taught, we needed to push our bodies to physical extremes, and then if we failed to do that, we must kill ourselves by sticking a knife in our stomach.

I don't know what that is, but it's certainly not what the Buddha taught.

In fact, it's exactly what he said not to do.

In Gassho,

Sara


You make a number of claims here regarding a practice about which you are not very well informed. (I remember there being a precept against such behavior...) For instance, you state: "people actually die doing this." In the present tense, and plural. Do you have any evidence in support of this claim--instances (plural) in which someone has died as a direct result of kaihogyo practice at present?

And for the record, Buddhism is not "psychological." The "psychological" is not the measure of Dharma practice. It is not necessarily therapeutic and its methods may surprise you. See: Lotus Sutra, chapter four. Happy shoveling.

More broadly: Tendai-shu is a Lotus Sutra school. The pedagogy (there's that word again) or rationale behind the teachings and practices given are understood as upaya, or means to an end, as presented in the LS. If a practice produces a wholesome result, it is a good practice. If not, than it is not. I have reason to think, from my own observations, that kaihogyo practice produces very good results in people. You can object all you like to the form it takes, but by Tendai standards, the form is functional and therefore it is to be encouraged, not discouraged.
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Re: Are Tendai practices of "Marathon Monks" Asceticism?

Postby oushi » Thu Apr 25, 2013 5:39 pm

Looks like extreme form of fanaticism.
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Re: Are Tendai practices of "Marathon Monks" Asceticism?

Postby Jikan » Thu Apr 25, 2013 6:26 pm

I should add that that if anyone's interested in how this practice looks from the point of view of a layperson, the recent documentary Shugendo Now is a good place to start. Beautifully filmed! and it has a sense of humor too. Here's the trailer.

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Re: Are Tendai practices of "Marathon Monks" Asceticism?

Postby PorkChop » Thu Apr 25, 2013 8:29 pm

oushi wrote:Looks like extreme form of fanaticism.

I don't think that's accurate in the least.

Definition roughly pieced together from Wiktionary:
fanaticism: the characteristic of being of a temple, divinely inspired, frenzied. Showing evidence of possession by a god or demon; frenzied, over-zealous.

Definition from www.merriam-webster.com :
fanaticism: fanatic outlook or behavior especially as exhibited by excessive enthusiasm, unreasoning zeal, or wild and extravagant notions on some subject. marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion

About the only one of those definitions that seems to apply is "being of a temple."
I wouldn't even call this "enthusiasm" and I definitely wouldn't call these walks "uncritical devotion."
The point is to push oneself to one's limits to break down the ego-centered, discursive-thoughts.
Going beyond the comfort zone to experience true reality first-hand...
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Re: Are Tendai practices of "Marathon Monks" Asceticism?

Postby oushi » Thu Apr 25, 2013 8:37 pm

PorkChop wrote:Going beyond the comfort zone to experience true reality first-hand...

That would imply that comfort zone is not real, which is nonsense ;) . Reality is that which does not need to be contrived, what is more... it cannot be contrived.
This is from Bloodstream sermon by Bodhidharma:
"And the only reason I’ve come to China is to transmit the instantaneous teaching of the Mahayana This mind is the Buddha. I don’t talk about precepts, devotions or ascetic practices such as immersing yourself in water and fire, treading a wheel of knives, eating one meal a day, or never lying down. These are fanatical, provisional teachings. "
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Re: Are Tendai practices of "Marathon Monks" Asceticism?

Postby PorkChop » Thu Apr 25, 2013 8:53 pm

oushi wrote:
PorkChop wrote:Going beyond the comfort zone to experience true reality first-hand...

That would imply that comfort zone is not real, which is nonsense ;) . Reality is that which does not need to be contrived, what is more... it cannot be contrived.
This is from Bloodstream sermon by Bodhidharma:
"And the only reason I’ve come to China is to transmit the instantaneous teaching of the Mahayana This mind is the Buddha. I don’t talk about precepts, devotions or ascetic practices such as immersing yourself in water and fire, treading a wheel of knives, eating one meal a day, or never lying down. These are fanatical, provisional teachings. "


I think very much that the limits that we place on ourselves (ie comfort zones) are not real.

Bodhidharma and Zhiyi were contemporaneous and not the same schools - in fact Zhiyi was fairly critical of Ch'an's unbalanced approach.
I find it funny that a guy who supposedly sat staring at a wall for 9 years (some stories even say cutting off his own eyelids so he didn't fall asleep) & who's first student supposedly chopped his own arm off in order to get trained would be pointing to anybody else as fanatical ...
Even Yáng Xuànzhī's relatively historical account of Bodhi states:
Seeing the golden disks [on the pole on top of Yǒngníng's stupa] reflecting in the sun, the rays of light illuminating the surface of the clouds, the jewel-bells on the stupa blowing in the wind, the echoes reverberating beyond the heavens, he sang its praises. He exclaimed: "Truly this is the work of spirits." He said: "I am 150 years old, and I have passed through numerous countries. There is virtually no country I have not visited. Even the distant Buddha-realms lack this." He chanted homage and placed his palms together in salutation for days on end.


Funny how following precepts falls into fanatical, provisional teachings...
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Re: Are Tendai practices of "Marathon Monks" Asceticism?

Postby oushi » Thu Apr 25, 2013 9:26 pm

PorkChop wrote:I think very much that the limits that we place on ourselves (ie comfort zones) are not real.

How can something unreal be a limitation? Because they are real, they are limitations.
PorkChop wrote:...who supposedly...

Should we now discuss assumptions? It is better to read the teachings which does not contain anything like this supposed stuff.
PorkChop wrote:Funny how following precepts falls into fanatical, provisional teachings...

Simply.
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Re: Are Tendai practices of "Marathon Monks" Asceticism?

Postby PorkChop » Thu Apr 25, 2013 9:28 pm

oushi wrote:
PorkChop wrote:I think very much that the limits that we place on ourselves (ie comfort zones) are not real.

How can something unreal be a limitation? Because they are real, they are limitations.


They are not real, they have no inherent existence from their own side, they are illusory, and they can be overcome.

EDIT, screw it, I'm going to revisit this....
oushi wrote:Should we now discuss assumptions? It is better to read the teachings which does not contain anything like this supposed stuff.

Why should Tendai (or T'ien T'ai) people be beholden to later, reform teachings specific to Ch'an tradition?
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Re: Are Tendai practices of "Marathon Monks" Asceticism?

Postby oushi » Thu Apr 25, 2013 9:32 pm

PorkChop wrote:
oushi wrote:
PorkChop wrote:I think very much that the limits that we place on ourselves (ie comfort zones) are not real.

How can something unreal be a limitation? Because they are real, they are limitations.


They are not real, they have no inherent existence from their own side, they are illusory, and they can be overcome.

So, beyond this unreal realm lies the realm containing inherent existence? As we discuss marathon monks, how far is it from the unreal reality? Can we measure this distance using the way they practice?

Why should Tendai (or T'ien T'ai) people be beholden to later, reform teachings specific to Ch'an tradition?

To not misinterpret them?
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