Western Myth of Zen

Western Myth of Zen

Postby Astus » Fri Dec 13, 2013 6:52 pm

Zen is a specific form of Buddhism that developed at the beginning of the Common Era around five hundred years after Gotama Buddha's death as a reaction to the way Buddhism had strayed from its origin as a meditative practice and become more of a religion. The Zen movement sought to strip away all the inessential rituals, constuming, and other trappings and get back down to the basics. This is evident in the name of the sect. "Zen" is the Japanese pronunciation of the Sanskrit word dhyana, meaning "meditation."
(Brad Warner: Sex, Sin, and Zen, p 4)

developed at the beginning of the Common Era

The beginning is usually attributed either to Shakyamuni Buddha or Bodhidharma, but it shows how actual historical information on Zen is hard to come by. And it doesn't matter anyway. Long ago somewhere far far away.

a reaction to the way Buddhism had strayed

Zen is returning to the original teachings of the Buddha. This is the real Buddhism.

from its origin as a meditative practice and become more of a religion

Buddhism is about meditation. It is not a religion, it only looks like one, but that is a mistake. That's why Buddhists in the West are called 'practitioners' because unless you meditate it is not even Buddhism.

Zen movement sought to strip away all the inessential rituals

Zen is a movement, not a religious sect or anything like that. And rituals are not important. Everything but meditation is inessential. Except for a little chanting, black robes, zafu, keisaku, gong, tea ceremony, prostrations, gardening, precepts, initiations, priests, etc. Those are just for decoration.

This is evident in the name of the sect. "Zen" is ... "meditation."

Meditate. Meditation. Zen is meditation. Buddhism is meditation. We could call this the "Meditation Only Movement".


p.s. No disrespect intended towards Brad Warner. It's just happened that it was his writing that caught my attention to this topic.
"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: Western Myth of Zen

Postby tomamundsen » Fri Dec 13, 2013 7:01 pm

To be clear, you are disagreeing with both the words in bold and not in bold, correct? I would say that Buddhism (including Zen) is most certainly not about meditation.
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Astus » Fri Dec 13, 2013 7:06 pm

tomamundsen wrote:To be clear, you are disagreeing with both the words in bold and not in bold, correct?


Yes. I meant to highlight the nature of the myth created for Zen (and Buddhism).
"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: Western Myth of Zen

Postby tomamundsen » Fri Dec 13, 2013 7:14 pm

Astus wrote:
tomamundsen wrote:To be clear, you are disagreeing with both the words in bold and not in bold, correct?


Yes. I meant to highlight the nature of the myth created for Zen (and Buddhism).

Right on. I think you gave a good summary.
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby matthewmartin » Fri Dec 13, 2013 8:58 pm

By your title I think you are imply that Brad has it wrong on the listed items. I don't mind that he isn't a scholar-- if we had to stick to D Lopez or the original Pali, we wouldn't have many new Buddhists, the former is a virtuosos scholar, but sort of hostile to Buddhism, the original Pali (and Sanscrit and Chinese and Tibetan) is hostile to people who don't read those languages or have patience for the ancient, barely readable style.

Re: single practice Buddhism
Single practice Kamakura Buddhism is a very plausible description of Jodo-Shinshu, Zen, and Nichiren Buddhism, they really do emphasize mantra, meditation and mantra respectively and dramatically de-emphasize everything else.

I would say that single practice Buddhism is a Japanese idea, post Chan, but pre-Brad.

Ref: http://www.tricycle.com/special-section ... -masters-0

Ref: http://www.jsri.jp/English/Honen/TEACHI ... kurab.html
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby duckfiasco » Fri Dec 13, 2013 11:10 pm

I've noticed this as well.
I made a thread about my impressions of the same a bit ago.

It's astonishing how transparent our own views and cultural assumptions are.
So we take teachings given to a specific audience, then have people within a totally different time and place telling each other they don't have beliefs and look, Zen doesn't either so it's perfect.

In the extreme, the Buddha isn't important, the Dharma isn't important, no worries about the Four Noble Truths or even the Noble Eightfold Path.
Karma is contrivance, compassion is contrivance, hatred/greed/ignorance are to be ignored and goodness will happen if we ignore hard enough.
Zen isn't a religion, it's just reality, and thank goodness our rational scientific worldview is on the same page!

The kind of meditation that results from this, in my opinion, becomes a way to sit in a seemingly equanimous fog as defilements play out unabated, remaining just as fierce off the cushion.
And since defilements are no issue and all we need is to "just sit" or "just eat" we can meditate for 5 minutes a day and feel real good is being done.

I found some quotes posted by Astus I believe about the crucial nature of compassion in Zen.
I've also seen quotes on here by Dogen about the centrality of rebirth and karma in Zen.
Yet had I absorbed solely what I saw and heard at Zen centers, I'd be left with the impression that Zen is about cultivating inaction as a way of life.

I think the biggest issue is Zen and Dogen especially are getting taken out of context.
Telling a monk who is steeped in the sutras and formal practice "if you meet the Buddha, kill him" is very different from telling the same to a Westerner who is bombarded from birth with sense pleasures and a society that holds babying every whim and emotional impulse to be normal.

At the risk of sounding even harsher, I've long felt drawn to Zen... until I read modern books, go to a center, or read forums.
Then I find crazy wisdom, "Zen isn't Buddhism" and don't see how it's particularly helpful or useful to anyone. A bunch of people repeating vague nonsense at each other.
It's like Western Zen has cornered the market on books devoid of meaning.

But when I meet Zen monks, I'm very encouraged and feel drawn to it again.
There's always a radiant joy and understanding that seems to be missing in other quadrants of Western Zen.
So I have some hope for the future of Zen where I live. It seems to take a lot of sifting to separate the wheat from the chaff, though.

Hope this wasn't offensive. I've been frustrated! Quack! :rolleye:
The Perfect Way knows no difficulties
Except that it refuses to make preferences;
Only when freed from hate and love,
It reveals itself fully and without disguise.
- Sengcan (tr. Suzuki)
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Malcolm » Sat Dec 14, 2013 12:06 am

duckfiasco wrote:
The kind of meditation that results from this, in my opinion, becomes a way to sit in a seemingly equanimous fog as defilements play out unabated, remaining just as fierce off the cushion.
And since defilements are no issue and all we need is to "just sit" or "just eat" we can meditate for 5 minutes a day and feel real good is being done.



What the Chan/Zen schools have understood, like the Dzogchen and Mahāmudra traditions which followed them, is that buddhahood is not a result accomplished through effort, that afflictions are not something concrete that can be cleansed the same way we wash our clothes (in fact there is nothing to remove), and the cultivation of conditioned states of samadhi/dhyāna lead nowhere than to more conceptuality.

Since Western Zen practitioners are not harming you, why be so up in arms about it?
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Though there are infinite liberating gateways of Dharma,
there are none not included in the dimension of the knowledge of the Great Perfection.

-- Buddha Samantabhadri
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby dharmagoat » Sat Dec 14, 2013 12:19 am

It is important to recognize the distinction between what could be described as the "Zen spirit" on the one hand, and all of the trappings of Zen (tenets, rituals, practices, etc.) on the other. The term 'Zen' can apply to either. I think Brad is conflating them too.
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Astus » Sat Dec 14, 2013 12:32 am

matthewmartin wrote:I would say that single practice Buddhism is a Japanese idea, post Chan, but pre-Brad.


There is no Buddhist school that I know of where they only have one kind of practice.

It is true that Honen emphasised the recitation of the name as the single practice that is sufficient for attaining birth in the Pure Land, but that is not the only practice he taught but also the miscellaneous practices of the Pure Land Path (zogyo) and the four auxiliary acts (jogo).

Dogen was definitely not the kind of "zazen only" teacher that some like to interpret him. Yes, zazen is a central method, but as it is apparent in his writings, he embraced and transmitted lot more than that. Most of his works in the Shobogenzo and his speeches in the Eihei Koroku are not about zazen. I just counted it, and the word zazen occurs in the 75-fascicle SBGZ only in eleven writings (10, 11, 12, 14, 16, 19, 43, 47, 50, 63, 69), and in three more (Bendowa, Butsudo/Doshin, Juundo Shiki) if you add 20 other works. That means 14.6% or 14.7% of the Shobogenzo works contain the word zazen, and even less talk about it to some extent. Plus, zazen has a wider meaning than just sitting in meditation.

And although I don't know much about Nichiren's teachings, I know that they do more than just repeating the Odaimoku endlessly.
"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: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Lindama » Sat Dec 14, 2013 1:43 am

Quack! Quack!

Nealy everything in this thread speaks to me.... what's a self to do? There are as many versions of zen as there are teachers of zen. I know quite a few. I used to live the question.... is it zen or Dzogchen? I hedged my bets but went into zen for a long while simply because I could get there easily in town. I never had funds to keep up with the Tibetans tho I never lost touch either. I innocently wound up with Rinzai, but not quite through Robert Aitken's lineage which is a bit of a blend of soto and rinzai as I understand, and now sit with a Soto group, an outcrop of Suzuki Roshi, even closer to home. But, I was first initiated with dzogchen meditation so that's mostly how I meditate at zen. (don't tell! :tongue:) Very particular to my particular rinzai sangha, I actually never received zen meditation instruction, only koan meditation which I love on the one hand yet think is the long way around the horn. Not to say they don't have merit. They certainly do. ofc, everybody says you should have a teacher, I did, now I don't.

I'm not a scholar, but personally, I find benefit and merit in it all. Why draw lines in the sand? it is a bit disagreeable to me when zen appears to cultivate inaction as a way of life or when zen appears to be devoid of meaning... don't be fooled ... it is both true superficially and not true. I think it is commonly perceived that way and many people believe it. I just side step.... there are many noble qualities in zen and many that are mistaken. Dogen is a wonder, there is much more to him you will see if you study... and Linchi! I despair a bit that almost any spiritual tradition looses it's juice when it's imitated... and they all are. Still we can sniff our way... Personally, I was the tenzo (head cook) so the practice was quite large. :smile: I never fell for extreme meditation, but that's just me. I agree there is a lot of myth until you find out for yourself. Very grateful also for the Tibetan influence, the subtle body, the elements and the colors! I always felt at home.
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby duckfiasco » Sat Dec 14, 2013 2:02 am

Malcolm wrote:
duckfiasco wrote:
The kind of meditation that results from this, in my opinion, becomes a way to sit in a seemingly equanimous fog as defilements play out unabated, remaining just as fierce off the cushion.
And since defilements are no issue and all we need is to "just sit" or "just eat" we can meditate for 5 minutes a day and feel real good is being done.



What the Chan/Zen schools have understood, like the Dzogchen and Mahāmudra traditions which followed them, is that buddhahood is not a result accomplished through effort, that afflictions are not something concrete that can be cleansed the same way we wash our clothes (in fact there is nothing to remove), and the cultivation of conditioned states of samadhi/dhyāna lead nowhere than to more conceptuality.

Since Western Zen practitioners are not harming you, why be so up in arms about it?

Hi, Malcolm :) Thanks for your input.

Yes, conditioned states lead to more conceptuality. I'm only recently starting to appreciate that through my love affair with endless monkey mind.

However, this isn't a thread about the merits of Zen per se, but the phenomenon of Western Zen. Specifically, the tendency I and others have noticed to shed what is deemed as cultural trappings and keep what jives with our world views and desires. Therefore among folks who feel rational and unattracted to "big" religion like Christianity, we have a version of Zen that is just that: rational and non-religious, tailor made.
Instead of examining why certain beliefs are painful, we just make a Buddhism with beliefs we prefer.
Is this helpful to some? I sure hope so. Was it helpful to me? No, and it's from that perspective I'm writing.

Whether or not the afflictions are conceptually concrete just might not be too relevant to someone in the grips of suffering. They seem real, and so a one-size-fits-all approach isn't too helpful, and I suspect it's more characteristic of Western Zen than Zen or Ch'an. An example was the thread about compassion in practice here, and how someone got the impression that Zen didn't address compassion. As someone who initially felt strongly that I was incapable of loving others, such an absence that I perceived also would easily have made Zen in the West yet another "not for me" thing. Thankfully, Astus had some lovely passages at the ready for this person.

For me, the point of activities like practicing compassion hasn't been to make some better conditioned state, but that a calmed mind free from negativity is better equipped for insight and more robust in the face of honest self-evaluation. While obsessed with defilements or bogged down by depression, there is much less freedom for this.

This is a major point where I think this kind of bare-bones Western Zen has failed people like me. The problem in a "doing nothing" approach without a solid foundation is that it's tantamount to letting habits rule the roost.
That's exactly why they're habits: they're cloaked in "I'm not doing anything".
When these habits are views and conditioned responses to the world, they become even harder to perceive.
It can be easy to slip into "I am rational and Zen is rational, what I view as not rational is therefore a cultural trapping and not Zen. What seems easier is better because I'm already enlightened, so I'll just do that."
It dresses up attachment to the mind and to views in new Zen clothes.

It's hardly coincidental that in a culture where for example rebirth is a nonstarter, we get a Zen devoid of rebirth. Instead of being challenged to examine our own views and what the implications of rebirth would mean for our cherished opinions and lifestyles, we just toss it out.

The harm in this I would say is that had I not looked outside of my experiences with such books and centers, I would've dismissed Zen out of hand as pointless inaction. I have the impression that Zen in the West is becoming one Dharma gate instead of 84,000. If you don't fit through it, tough luck.

I won't presume to be the only person who's had this impression, only others may not have been so curious to see if there's more to it.
Last edited by duckfiasco on Sat Dec 14, 2013 2:19 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Malcolm » Sat Dec 14, 2013 2:11 am

duckfiasco wrote:
This is a major point where I think Western Zen has failed.


Do western Zen practitioners cultivate bodhicitta? Indeed, they do.

Do they need to believe in rebirth? No, they don't.

M
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འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

Though there are infinite liberating gateways of Dharma,
there are none not included in the dimension of the knowledge of the Great Perfection.

-- Buddha Samantabhadri
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby LastLegend » Sat Dec 14, 2013 2:24 am

What I understand about Zen or specifically Chan is once students have understood that their mind is Buddha, they continue to cultivate or practice. But it does not mean they practice to "achieve" anything. It is quite a mistake to think otherwise. Being vegan, keeping precepts, and such are not to aim to "gain" anything. It is just what they do but should not be undermined. If it is the case that they are trying to "get" something from being vegan and keeping precepts, they would have been no enlightened Chan/Zen masters in the first place. I think is is a very crucial point to understand for Chan/Zen.

And characteristics of Chan/Zen is limited just to one particular practice. It depends on the line that masters have followed. Some Chan/Zen masters, as the case for Vietnamese Zen, have realized through recitation of a particular mantra or dharani.
Last edited by LastLegend on Sat Dec 14, 2013 2:37 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby duckfiasco » Sat Dec 14, 2013 2:35 am

Malcolm wrote:
duckfiasco wrote:
This is a major point where I think Western Zen has failed.


Do western Zen practitioners cultivate bodhicitta? Indeed, they do.

Do they need to believe in rebirth? No, they don't.

M

I must've just had bad luck in the centers I went to and the books I read and the forums I visited being almost entirely devoid of talk of compassion, the paramitas, or other such things. DW has been a much appreciated exception.
Instead, it's all Buddha-nature and Dogen, and only a very small slice of his writings about zazen, as Astus noted.

I'll avoid turning this into yet another thread on rebirth. We'll just have to disagree about the importance of rebirth.
I will say that I think it's symptomatic of a larger tendency to reject the parts of Buddhism and Zen that are unpalatable to Western culture or views.
The Perfect Way knows no difficulties
Except that it refuses to make preferences;
Only when freed from hate and love,
It reveals itself fully and without disguise.
- Sengcan (tr. Suzuki)
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Malcolm » Sat Dec 14, 2013 2:40 am

duckfiasco wrote:
Malcolm wrote:
duckfiasco wrote:
This is a major point where I think Western Zen has failed.


Do western Zen practitioners cultivate bodhicitta? Indeed, they do.

Do they need to believe in rebirth? No, they don't.

M

I must've just had bad luck in the centers I went to and the books I read and the forums I visited being almost entirely devoid of talk of compassion, the paramitas, or other such things. DW has been a much appreciated exception.
Instead, it's all Buddha-nature and Dogen, and only a very small slice of his writings about zazen, as Astus noted.

I'll avoid turning this into yet another thread on rebirth. We'll just have to disagree about the importance of rebirth.
I will say that I think it's symptomatic of a larger tendency to reject the parts of Buddhism and Zen that are unpalatable to Western culture or views.



I did not say that rebirth was not important.

I just said they do not need to believe it.
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འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

Though there are infinite liberating gateways of Dharma,
there are none not included in the dimension of the knowledge of the Great Perfection.

-- Buddha Samantabhadri
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Lindama » Sat Dec 14, 2013 2:44 am

d-fiasco,
did you come to these conclusions within a zen practice?

I am not going to defend zen as a practice or a society, it has it's pros and cons. But I wonder where your conclusions are coming from. imo, this is not a balanced view. pls explain
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby duckfiasco » Sat Dec 14, 2013 2:47 am

I'm not trying to talk about the merits of Zen, but about Zen in the West, particularly in America, and my experience of it.
Do my posts make more sense from that perspective?
The Perfect Way knows no difficulties
Except that it refuses to make preferences;
Only when freed from hate and love,
It reveals itself fully and without disguise.
- Sengcan (tr. Suzuki)
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Lindama » Sat Dec 14, 2013 2:49 am

duckfiasco wrote:I'm not trying to talk about the merits of Zen, but about Zen in the West, particularly in America, and my experience of it.
Do my posts make more sense from that perspective?


Then, please ground it by getting closer to your experience. Don't think I don't know what you're talking about... but as with everything, it's a mix. Ive seen a lot, believe me!

I have a harder time thinking that east and west are all that diff!! :tongue:
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby duckfiasco » Sat Dec 14, 2013 2:55 am

Here's the post I linked that describes my experiences and why I feel this way. Since my exposure to Zen in the US has generally followed this trend, that's my basis for saying "Western Zen". It's entirely a personal perspective.
Noble Onefold Path? wrote:One thing I've noticed though, in attending local Zen sanghas and reading Zen books in English, is that the Buddha's teachings, including things as basic as the Noble Eightfold Path, are set aside in favor of "just sitting" as the entire practice. It's like there's a Noble Onefold Path: just sit. In the (many) books I've read, the ratio of quotations by Dogen to those by the Buddha are maybe 10 to 1, if the Buddha is mentioned at all beyond the phrase "Buddha nature". Especially prevalent are Dogen's teachings of zazen being synonymous with enlightenment. No talk of sila or remedies for specific defilements, like the simile of the carpenter replacing a rotten peg. I'm sure this is an oversimplification, but this is definitely the impression I've gotten.

I'm also skeptical that this is the entirety of the work by a man as complex and skilled as Dogen. Yet you wouldn't know it from the places I've gone and the books I've read. Especially alarming is the utter absence of cultivating metta or love. I'll be mighty surprised if Dogen had nothing to say about it, so why does it never come up?

I've wondered if this is more characteristic of the sort of casual morals-is-a-dirty-word, practical/materialistic Buddhism that seems popular in the US and not of Zen practice I might see if I went to a Zen monastery versus a sangha made up entirely of laypeople. I do know that monks don't just sit there in zazen from dawn to dusk; they study, discuss the dharma together, and do a lot of physical work as their practice. But why is this so deemphasized in practically every Zen book I've read in English? If I only read these, I don't think I'd even know about the Four Noble Truths or the Noble Eightfold Path. I wouldn't know about wholesome and unwholesome mental states. I wouldn't know about cultivating love. Even going to Zen centers, the dharma talks are about Dogen, and specifically the parts of his teachings that don't mention karma, reincarnation, or having a solid moral base for practice. I'm sure he taught about these things.


Is that what you were curious to know?
If you want to know specifics about my practice and "personal" time with Zen, I'd rather share them via PM than here.
The Perfect Way knows no difficulties
Except that it refuses to make preferences;
Only when freed from hate and love,
It reveals itself fully and without disguise.
- Sengcan (tr. Suzuki)
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Lindama » Sat Dec 14, 2013 3:22 am

Well, it's not that that perspective is false. :shrug: I just never depended on zen to teach me about compassion or loving kindness. Zen can go there, but too bad it's not talked about. Granted, many people don't have a clue. But, I see them start to come around. I've done Tibetan practices like 6 lokas/ 6 realms where we can work with antidotes... they maybe skillful at a certain point. But, the truth is it's not about achieving anything. I agree, I've seen a lot of zen bad boys who use it as an excuse for bad behavior... but is that limited to zen? As I said, I side step a lot...

Truth for me is that I've dropped away, the politics have gotten too small.... but the essence of zen can't ever be too small.

I am in the hotbed of zen in the Bay Area.... there are many permutations. Vajra teachers teaming with zen teachers on occasion.... as complementary. A zen teacher in denmark who is studying dzogchen. Obviously, some people recognize the benefit of buddhist community beyond the schools. Many zen teachers here recognize the need for a heart centered practice. And, i know zen teachers who teach lojon. So, hard to put a label on anything.

I can't abide putting someone in the closet and not telling them anything... in this day and age, we don't have time! A few words can turn the world.

So, to get back on topic... it seems true enough zen is more than meditation. who knew :popcorn:
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