Does Zen have ethics?

Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby shel » Mon Aug 19, 2013 12:46 am

dyanaprajna2011 wrote:Let's try this: shel, can you quote Zen masters who have explicitly taught that it's ok to go against the precepts, the paramitas, etc? Or, even more specifically, quote from Zen masters who say that doing wrong/evil/etc, is actually the path?


You suggest that mere words are what count and not actions? How ethical is that?
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby dyanaprajna2011 » Mon Aug 19, 2013 12:59 am

shel wrote:
dyanaprajna2011 wrote:Let's try this: shel, can you quote Zen masters who have explicitly taught that it's ok to go against the precepts, the paramitas, etc? Or, even more specifically, quote from Zen masters who say that doing wrong/evil/etc, is actually the path?


You suggest that mere words are what count and not actions? How ethical is that?


So basically what you've done, is taken the unwholesome actions of a few Zen teachers, and established that as the whole, while rejecting all the rest? How ethical, or truthful, is that?
"If you want to travel the Way of Buddhas and Zen masters, then expect nothing, seek nothing, and grasp nothing." -Dogen
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby shel » Mon Aug 19, 2013 1:14 am

Meido wrote:
shel wrote:You offer a koan?


Well, yes, since it is among the best-known passages from Zen literature addressing what Luke had raised.


It's just a fable. As I mentioned, even a sociopath can't deny causality, in fact they rely on it to live among those with conscience.

Regarding Victoria's work, I would not say it is without value. There has been significant scholarly critique of both his methods and conclusions which you may want to take a look at. For example, a critique of the article you cited titled 'Brian Victoria and the Question of Scholarship' (by Sato and Kirchner). This and others are easily Googled.

I read the first page. From that page...

Kemmyō Taira SaTō wrote:I have no disagreement with Victoria’s central contention that prior to and during WWII, Japanese Zen and the Japanese Buddhist establishment as a whole strayed from the teachings of Śākyamuni Buddha and helped enable Japan’s military atrocities in China and elsewhere. The point of my article was not to excuse Japanese Buddhism’s record during this unhappy period, but to set the record straight on what Suzuki, as an individual, actually said and did at that time, as well as to point out questionable arguments and techniques Victoria used in his critique.
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby shel » Mon Aug 19, 2013 1:21 am

dyanaprajna2011 wrote:
shel wrote:
dyanaprajna2011 wrote:Let's try this: shel, can you quote Zen masters who have explicitly taught that it's ok to go against the precepts, the paramitas, etc? Or, even more specifically, quote from Zen masters who say that doing wrong/evil/etc, is actually the path?


You suggest that mere words are what count and not actions? How ethical is that?


So basically what you've done, is taken the unwholesome actions of a few Zen teachers, and established that as the whole, while rejecting all the rest? How ethical, or truthful, is that?


Once again we are not talking about "a few Zen teachers." We are talking about realized and transmitted Zen masters who represent what transmission and realization mean. We are talking about whole sanghas who follow and support such masters. We are talking about "Japanese Zen and the Japanese Buddhist establishment as a whole," to quote Satō. How much is too much to overlook?
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Luke » Mon Aug 19, 2013 2:05 am

Meido wrote:
Luke wrote:Okay, but it still doesn't directly say that practicing evil actions without forming the concept of self, person, life-span or sentient being is the wrong way to go or is not Zen. I'm looking for a quote that clearly rejects this mistaken idea.

Sure, start with "Hyakujo and the Fox."

Hello Meido roshi, thank you for mentioning the fox story. It was exactly the kind of quote I was looking for. :namaste:

Here is the link for visitors who are interested in it:
http://www.fodian.net/world/2004/08_Hya ... he_fox.txt

Meido wrote:
Luke wrote:Or getting historical, were there any Zen masters in medieval Japan who were harsh critics of the samurai instead of being samurai apologists?


Historically, I am not sure what you mean by 'samurai apologists'. Example?

Well, for now, I found something more current:
"This philosophy for life was further refined in Roshi’s concept of the warrior spirit. Roshi never glorified warfare, however he was very impressed by the single-minded spirit and selflessness embodied by the medieval Japanese warriors known as the samurai. The samurai warriors' lives depended on a fearlessness and selflessness in their approach to life. A single doubt or fear could cause a momentary lack of concentration that could prove fatal. Zen was the religion of the samurai warrior class in Japan. They cultivated complete selflessness in their zazen, no fear, beyond fear, and beyond self-grasping. Roshi found this to be a wonderfully inspiring image for all of us as Zen practitioners. We are all confronted with many challenges each day. We may allow doubt, fear, and fatigue to weaken our resolve. Zazen can be a tremendous aid in cultivating selflessness, fearlessness, and energy that permits us to act, speak and live genuinely and deeply from the center of our beings without any reservation. Allowing us to live more and more closely within the context of our original nature as human beings. Freeing us to do just what needs to be done, free of habitual self-doubt, free of habitual second-guessing and excessive self-analyzing. As Roshi would say, "Living with absolute self-confidence." One of Roshi’s favorite stories related to a question asked of Sensei, Matsuoka Roshi, during tea following a meditation service. A Zen student asked about the purpose of zazen practice. After some deliberation Sensei responded, "Confidence in everyday life." For Roshi, that about summed it all up in a nutshell. Stop with the incessant intellectualization and simply live confidently. Just Be! Zazen will lead us down the path of the Buddha to true self-understanding and allow us to discover our true complete innermost nature that has always been there though veiled by our self-clinging based ignorance and delusions."
http://www.zbtc.org/zenku-withgratitude.html

I have heard of Zen teachers who said nothing about the samurai, and I have heard of Zen teachers who say good things about the samurai, but I have never heard of a Zen teacher harshly criticizing the samurai's actions or lifestyle!

Perhaps Zen in Japan got so wrapped up in Japanese national pride that a Japanese Zen master just can't bring himself to say that the samurai were anything but very cool and admirable!

There is nothing about ethics or morality in the roshi's quote above. He admires the samurai's concentration and fearlessness. He seems to romanticize the samurai and doesn't criticize a single thing about their war-like lifestyle.

To take an extreme example, when serial killers "live genuinely and deeply from the center of their beings without any reservation" they kill people. "Confidence in everyday life" for them is finding people to kill and killing them. They don't intellectualize too much; they simply enjoy killing people and they are confident in their ability to kill people. Hell, maybe a serial killer could even kill his victims with a beautiful antique katana! And maybe the serial killer believes the people he kills are "evil" and so therefore, he is being "selfless" by killing them!

I am not simply being facetious. I am just illustrating how a sociopath could easily have most of the qualities which the roshi finds so praiseworthy in the quoted paragraph.

I realize that this is simply an article and that it is not an important Zen text, but still, it is an example of Zen writing which seems extremely amoral ("Concentration, guts, and instinctive action! Yahooo!").
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Meido » Mon Aug 19, 2013 3:26 am

shel wrote:It's just a fable. As I mentioned, even a sociopath can't deny causality, in fact they rely on it to live among those with conscience.


Ignorance of the centrality and purposes of koan literature in Zen does not do much to support the argument you advance. Nor does a confusion of general causation with the ripening of karmic effect, which is what we were discussing.

shel wrote:I read the first page.


The other 27 are quoteworthy as well.

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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Meido » Mon Aug 19, 2013 4:08 am

Hi Luke,

Does the fact that the quote you provide does not have as its subject ethics or precepts make it in fact amoral, as you claim?

Again, Zen as universal samurai religion is a historical fallacy (not to deny the pervasive cultural impact of Zen in Japan). But aside from that common misperception what exactly is wrong with what you quoted? I see no apologetics for any kind of immorality there at all.

Assuming we are not here engaging in a historical examination of the actual strengths and weaknesses of Japanese medieval and later feudal culture: the jump from the quote you cite to talk of modern serial killers is something I'm just not getting.

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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Huifeng » Mon Aug 19, 2013 8:20 am

Luke wrote:Zen can often sound very amoral with all its celebration of performing different actions with total concentration.

Zen Buddhists often talk about "just sitting," "just eating, " etc., but from the Zen point of view, what makes these any different from "just stealing," "just killing," etc.?

I'm aware that Zen Buddhists aren't emotionless psychopaths, but I would just like to see some Zen quotes that prove that Zen has some sense of ethics, because this often isn't obvious to people who first encounter it.


Hi Luke,

Since you've posted this in the General Zen Forum, I'd like to chime in.

Not speaking for the entirety of "Zen"--if that is even possible--I'd just like to say that the Chan that I've encountered, and also teach, definitely has ethics.

If one was "just looking" at an object, one would not steal it--stealing comes when one is not "just looking", but looking with craving, aversion and ignorance; likewise for other behavior. The "just" effectively means without afflictions, and without afflictions, there is no unethical behavior.

That's what makes these things different.

~~ Huifeng
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby shel » Mon Aug 19, 2013 8:23 am

Meido wrote:
shel wrote:It's just a fable. As I mentioned, even a sociopath can't deny causality, in fact they rely on it to live among those with conscience.

Ignorance of the centrality and purposes of koan literature in Zen does not do much to support the argument you advance.

I would say it does nothing at all to support it. Perhaps you're not clear about what my argument is?

Nor does a confusion of general causation with the ripening of karmic effect, which is what we were discussing.

I'm certain this does nothing to support it also.

We seem to be in agreement.

Meido wrote:
shel wrote:I read the first page.

The other 27 are quoteworthy as well.

You present an article, which you apparently strongly believe in, that on the first page reads: "prior to and during WWII, Japanese Zen and the Japanese Buddhist establishment as a whole strayed from the teachings of Śākyamuni Buddha and helped enable Japan’s military atrocities in China and elsewhere."

Maybe I should retire from the topic and let you continue supporting my argument.
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Meido » Mon Aug 19, 2013 3:06 pm

shel wrote:Perhaps you're not clear about what my argument is?


I confess I'm struggling.

shel wrote:You present an article, which you apparently strongly believe in, that on the first page reads: "prior to and during WWII, Japanese Zen and the Japanese Buddhist establishment as a whole strayed from the teachings of Śākyamuni Buddha and helped enable Japan’s military atrocities in China and elsewhere."


I'm not certain that anyone here has contested the assertion that large swaths of Japanese society- including various Buddhist and other religious organizations - failed through outright ignorance, fear of consequences, cultural myopia and other reasons to stand against the military faction which usurped power in early 20th century Japan and brought about so much misery both without and within the country. But I remain unclear why Zen is your sole target, or what evidence you will present for your more sweeping generalizations about Zen/Ch'an as a whole.

And in fact, you presented an article. I simply mentioned a rather strong rebuttal of it written by some well respected scholars. Give it a read sometime, it's well done.

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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby shel » Mon Aug 19, 2013 5:13 pm

Meido wrote:I'm not certain that anyone here has contested the assertion that large swaths of Japanese society- including various Buddhist and other religious organizations - failed through outright ignorance, fear of consequences, cultural myopia and other reasons to stand against the military faction which usurped power in early 20th century Japan and brought about so much misery both without and within the country.


Kemmyō Taira Satō, a scholar who you respect, acknowledges that Japanese Zen and the Japanese Buddhist establishment as a whole strayed from the teachings of Śākyamuni Buddha and helped enable Japan’s military atrocities in China and elsewhere. He acknowledges that they helped Japan's military actions in China. They helped with an imperialist invasion that cost millions of lives and involved the rape, torture, and mass murder of Chinese civilians in the tens of thousands.

There is no question that Zen ethics are questionable. The better question at this point is why is that the case? Why can a sociopath so easily become a Zen master? What allows that to happen?
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Astus » Mon Aug 19, 2013 5:45 pm

shel wrote:...strayed from the teachings of Śākyamuni Buddha...

There is no question that Zen ethics are questionable. The better question at this point is why is that the case? Why can a sociopath so easily become a Zen master? What allows that to happen?


To acknowledge that they strayed from the teachings by committing immoral actions is also saying that there is an ethical norm expected to be upheld. That is, it confirms that there is such a thing as Zen ethics, and that is the measure of their behaviour.

As for how someone who acts unethically could become and remain a Zen teacher is not a question about the ethical teachings of Zen but rather the institutional structure. Or rather about Westerners who like to believe in omniscient gurus and crazy wisdom. Both are a different topic that has already been discussed previously in the Zen Has no Morals thread.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby shel » Mon Aug 19, 2013 6:03 pm

I never wrote that Zen does not have ethics, Astus. I clearly wrote that Zen ethics are questionable. They obviously are questionable.
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby seeker242 » Mon Aug 19, 2013 6:07 pm

shel wrote:I never wrote that Zen does not have ethics, Astus. I clearly wrote that Zen ethics are questionable. They obviously are questionable.


Just curious how zen ethics can be questionable when they have the same 5 precepts as every other Buddhist tradition out there?
One should not kill any living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should one incite any other to kill. Do never injure any being, whether strong or weak, in this entire universe!
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Luke » Mon Aug 19, 2013 7:12 pm

Huifeng wrote:Hi Luke,

Since you've posted this in the General Zen Forum, I'd like to chime in.

Not speaking for the entirety of "Zen"--if that is even possible--I'd just like to say that the Chan that I've encountered, and also teach, definitely has ethics.

If one was "just looking" at an object, one would not steal it--stealing comes when one is not "just looking", but looking with craving, aversion and ignorance; likewise for other behavior. The "just" effectively means without afflictions, and without afflictions, there is no unethical behavior.

That's what makes these things different.

~~ Huifeng

Your clarity is refreshing, Ven. Huifeng! :namaste:

And perhaps some of this confusion arises because of translation issues? Are these expressions more clear in the original Chinese or Japanese? Or even there, would they be ambiguous to a Chinese or Japanese speaker who is unfamiliar with Buddhism or Zen?

So from what you've said, "just beating your wife" is not possible in the Zen sense of "just doing" something, because beating your wife would mean having emotional afflictions. Ah, I understand.

I suppose that Zen Buddhism can be misunderstood just as easily as tantric Buddhism can be!--Thus the need for a qualified Zen teacher...
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby shel » Mon Aug 19, 2013 7:28 pm

seeker242 wrote:
shel wrote:I never wrote that Zen does not have ethics, Astus. I clearly wrote that Zen ethics are questionable. They obviously are questionable.


Just curious how zen ethics can be questionable when they have the same 5 precepts as every other Buddhist tradition out there?

Yes that is indeed a good question. Not an easy question but a good one. A question that should not be overlooked.
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Jikan » Mon Aug 19, 2013 7:34 pm

shel wrote:I never wrote that Zen does not have ethics, Astus. I clearly wrote that Zen ethics are questionable. They obviously are questionable.


It seems to me that Zen ethics, from what we've seen in this thread, are readily comprehensible (precepts...). It's the actions of some Zen practitioners and institutions that I have certain questions about.
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Luke » Mon Aug 19, 2013 10:10 pm

Meido wrote:Does the fact that the quote you provide does not have as its subject ethics or precepts make it in fact amoral, as you claim?

It certainly sounds amoral --meaning that it sounds neither moral nor immoral, but leaves its morality as something fairly ambiguous. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on one's point of view, but ambiguous Zen writing can be misinterpreted so easily. Classic texts shouldn't be rewritten, but modern Zen teachers might want to keep this in mind when they write articles so that fewer readers develop incorrect and immoral interpretations of their writings.

The way I read this article, it seems to celebrate the samurai--who kicked a lot of a##--therefore, it seems to imply that it might also be just fine for a modern person to fearlessly and confidently go and kick lots of a##. It leaves this question open, but it certainly doesn't imply the opposite!

Meido wrote:Again, Zen as universal samurai religion is a historical fallacy (not to deny the pervasive cultural impact of Zen in Japan).

I'm somewhat aware of that, but yet many foolish and incorrect articles continue to be written about Zen and the samurai, such as this one, which refers to the article I posted earlier (which is how I found it originally).
http://suite101.com/article/how-zen-mad ... ss-a159718

But yet, I don't see modern Zen teachers making an active effort to tell people that Zen doesn't have much to do with the samurai. A lot of Zen teachers seem to truly enjoy being associated with the samurai and don't seem to mind the marketing they get from flawed samurai articles.

Meido wrote:But aside from that common misperception what exactly is wrong with what you quoted? I see no apologetics for any kind of immorality there at all.

What I object to is the worshipful, uncritical tone with which the roshi talks about samurai--it's as if the roshi believes that the samurai can do no wrong.

He also only writes about it from the perspective of harm which can befall the individual samurai in question and doesn't at all address the fact that the job of the samurai also involves killing lots of people in battles. He writes about it as if being a samurai is an activity like rock climbing which is only dangerous to the individual doing it and which doesn't harm others.

It would be the same thing if an American Zen teacher were always talking about how awesome American commandos are: yes, they have some impressive qualities, but it's a bit contradictory for Buddhist teachers to continually celebrate warriors, isn't it?

BTW, I started a new thread: "Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?"
viewtopic.php?f=69&t=13802&p=180080#p180080

Meido wrote:Assuming we are not here engaging in a historical examination of the actual strengths and weaknesses of Japanese medieval and later feudal culture: the jump from the quote you cite to talk of modern serial killers is something I'm just not getting.

The point is how easily many Zen articles can be misinterpreted in immoral ways due to the fact that they focus on qualities which can seemingly be developed without having any ethics at all.
Last edited by Luke on Mon Aug 19, 2013 10:40 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby shel » Mon Aug 19, 2013 10:35 pm

Jikan wrote:
shel wrote:I never wrote that Zen does not have ethics, Astus. I clearly wrote that Zen ethics are questionable. They obviously are questionable.


It seems to me that Zen ethics, from what we've seen in this thread, are readily comprehensible (precepts...). It's the actions of some Zen practitioners and institutions that I have certain questions about.

Unless I'm mistaken, precepts in Zen are not considered some kind of immutable laws but intentions. Isn't that right? If that is right then you're merely saying that in Zen there are good intentions. Lying to the Nazi's in order to hide Jews, for a classic example, may demonstrate good intentions despite deceiving others. Many consider deception to be ethically questionable. Minorly or majorly contributing to Japanese imperialism may have ultimately resulted in 20 million Chinese deaths, but intentions may have been good. I think we're all familiar with the proverb that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Personally I favor the proverb that hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of good works.
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Huifeng » Tue Aug 20, 2013 3:40 am

Luke wrote:
Huifeng wrote:Hi Luke,

Since you've posted this in the General Zen Forum, I'd like to chime in.

Not speaking for the entirety of "Zen"--if that is even possible--I'd just like to say that the Chan that I've encountered, and also teach, definitely has ethics.

If one was "just looking" at an object, one would not steal it--stealing comes when one is not "just looking", but looking with craving, aversion and ignorance; likewise for other behavior. The "just" effectively means without afflictions, and without afflictions, there is no unethical behavior.

That's what makes these things different.

~~ Huifeng

Your clarity is refreshing, Ven. Huifeng! :namaste:

And perhaps some of this confusion arises because of translation issues? Are these expressions more clear in the original Chinese or Japanese? Or even there, would they be ambiguous to a Chinese or Japanese speaker who is unfamiliar with Buddhism or Zen?

So from what you've said, "just beating your wife" is not possible in the Zen sense of "just doing" something, because beating your wife would mean having emotional afflictions. Ah, I understand.

I suppose that Zen Buddhism can be misunderstood just as easily as tantric Buddhism can be!--Thus the need for a qualified Zen teacher...


Well, to be honest, I'm not sure where half of the modern English Zen slogans come from in Chinese... Sometimes I do see English phrases where I can identify the Chinese, but personally would use a different English expression.

Maybe "love and cherish your wife (/ husband / children / everyone)" would be best, no?

There are also modern historical reasons for certain problems, such as the general trends taking place in the Meiji restoration in Japan, but that requires a fair bit of explanation. These issues are often simply not applicable to the modern period of Chan.

~~ Huifeng
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