Western Myth of Zen

Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby oushi » Sat Dec 14, 2013 9:02 am

This "juicy" definition from Bodhidharmas Bloodstream sermon comes to my mind:

"Buddha is Sanskrit for what you call aware, miraculously aware. Responding, arching your brows blinking your eyes, moving your hands and feet, its all your miraculously aware nature. And this nature is the mind. And the mind is the Buddha. And the Buddha is the path. And the path is Zen. But the word Zen is one that remains a puzzle to both mortals and sages. Seeing your nature is Zen. Unless you see your nature, it’s not Zen."

It does not matter if Bodhidharma was really the author of it, because it's brilliant anyway.
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Qing Tian » Sat Dec 14, 2013 12:58 pm

The goal of the path is the path. :meditate:
“Not till your thoughts cease all their branching here and there, not till you abandon all thoughts of seeking for something, not till your mind is motionless as wood or stone, will you be on the right road to the Gate.”
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby seeker242 » Sat Dec 14, 2013 1:41 pm

Astus wrote:
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.



Personally, I would not go so far as to say that as chanting, prostrations, gardening, tea ceremony, Oryoki, etc, etc is all itself, meditation.
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Astus » Sat Dec 14, 2013 2:52 pm

seeker242 wrote:Personally, I would not go so far as to say that as chanting, prostrations, gardening, tea ceremony, Oryoki, etc, etc is all itself, meditation.


They are not considered meditation, unless the argument is that "everything is meditation as long as you are aware of what you do", i.e. meditation is "being in the present". They are elements carried on in various communities without much consideration. But of course there is no particular reason as for why wear robes mimicking monks, or why eat like they do (did) in Japan, or why a Zen garden is better than an English garden. However, if those "cultural trappings" were removed completely, Zen would look no different from the Insight Meditation Society or simple meditation groups outside the Buddhist frame. Thus Zen is defined not by what is actually taught but by its outward appearance. Zen is therefore a style.
"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)

“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; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Malcolm » Sat Dec 14, 2013 3:24 pm

Astus wrote:Zen is therefore a style.


Indeed, largely, though not entirely, based on Sung dynasty Neo-confucian aesthetics as interpreted by the Japanese.
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby ReasonAndRhyme » Sat Dec 14, 2013 3:33 pm

Astus wrote: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.


Hi Astus,

I'm not sure which part of your post is a quote and which part is you speaking, but concerning the above statement: this is not neccessarily so. In Tibetan Buddhism it is a widespread view that you're a Buddhist when you accept the Four Seals. This is for instance how Dzongzar Jamyang Khyentse defines being a Buddhist in "What makes you not a Buddhist":

Anyone who accepts these four seals, even independently of Buddha’s teachings, even never having heard the name Shakyamuni Buddha, can be considered to be on the same path as he


What sets Buddhism apart from the religions of the world? I believe it boils down to the four seals (...)


(I'm afraid I can't give any page numbers cause I'm reading the eBook.)

This is also how it was defined in a Gelug study course I participated in a while ago.
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Astus » Sat Dec 14, 2013 4:13 pm

Malcolm wrote:Indeed, largely, though not entirely, based on Sung dynasty Neo-confucian aesthetics as interpreted by the Japanese.


There was a topic: Zen the Literary Movement.

My view is that seeing and/or presenting Zen as a style is losing what actual teachings were transmitted. But when it becomes a taboo to even consider that Zen has a doctrinal position, it is easy to reduce it to superficial techniques and artistic forms. And that's what this "Western Myth" does.
"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)

“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; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Astus » Sat Dec 14, 2013 4:23 pm

ReasonAndRhyme wrote:I'm not sure which part of your post is a quote and which part is you speaking, but concerning the above statement: this is not neccessarily so.


Text not in bold are my comments.

There are various definitions. My point is that there is a tendency that Zen (and Buddhism in general) is primarily/only about meditative practice. That's what Zen people (and Buddhists) do. If you are a Zen follower you are necessarily a Zen practitioner, and practitioner means meditating. The programs of a Zen community consists mainly of meditation practice. Intensive practice is a retreat with lots of meditation. There is no Sunday school, nothing like a catechism, nothing particular to accept as true or a specific code of conduct to follow - or in Buddhist terms, no correct view and no correct ethics. Although there are talks about buddha-nature, emptiness, the bodhisattva precepts, but they are not really more important than ritual eating and drinking. Actually, even meditation is not a well developed subject, there are mostly generalisations and simple instructions.
"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)

“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; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Malcolm » Sat Dec 14, 2013 4:48 pm

ReasonAndRhyme wrote:
Astus wrote: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.


Hi Astus,

I'm not sure which part of your post is a quote and which part is you speaking, but concerning the above statement: this is not neccessarily so. In Tibetan Buddhism it is a widespread view that you're a Buddhist when you accept the Four Seals. This is for instance how Dzongzar Jamyang Khyentse defines being a Buddhist in "What makes you not a Buddhist":

Anyone who accepts these four seals, even independently of Buddha’s teachings, even never having heard the name Shakyamuni Buddha, can be considered to be on the same path as he


What sets Buddhism apart from the religions of the world? I believe it boils down to the four seals (...)


(I'm afraid I can't give any page numbers cause I'm reading the eBook.)

This is also how it was defined in a Gelug study course I participated in a while ago.


Sakya Pandita is more precise. To be considered a follower of Buddhadharma you must:

1. Accept the four seals*
2. Have gone for Refuge
3. Either be training in Buddhadharma through śila, samadhi and prajñā or have realized the fruit of the three trainings.

According to his thinking, if one satisfies all three criteria listed above, only then can one be considered a follower of Buddhadharma. Personally, I agree with him.

M

*He makes an exception for pudgalavadins because while they do not accept the four seals, they nevertheless go for refuge and engage in the three trainings.
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby duckfiasco » Sat Dec 14, 2013 10:43 pm

Malcolm, what do you make then of the proliferation of Zen books that don't mention the Four Seals, sila, Refuge, or indeed anything other than "being in the present" and already being enlightened so there's nothing to do?
I wonder what enlightenment even means with such little context.
I add too that these books are often written for beginners or a lay audience for whom this may be the primary exposure to Buddhism.

If these are not indicative of Western or American Zen, then I'll be very relieved to be corrected.
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Malcolm » Sat Dec 14, 2013 10:47 pm

duckfiasco wrote:Malcolm, what do you make then of the proliferation of Zen books that don't mention the Four Seals, sila, Refuge, or indeed anything other than "being in the present" and already being enlightened so there's nothing to do?
I wonder what enlightenment even means with such little context.
I add too that these books are often written for beginners or a lay audience for whom this may be the primary exposure to Buddhism.

If these are not indicative of Western or American Zen, then I'll be very relieved to be corrected.


You would have to give me some examples.
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Meido » Sun Dec 15, 2013 12:44 am

Astus wrote:My view is that seeing and/or presenting Zen as a style is losing what actual teachings were transmitted. But when it becomes a taboo to even consider that Zen has a doctrinal position, it is easy to reduce it to superficial techniques and artistic forms. And that's what this "Western Myth" does.


Astus, I agree with this. I think you well describe in your posts a kind of popular Western (mis-)conception of what Zen is, and the now common perception of style attached to the word. Thus we see it included in the names of sushi restaurants, or a brand of green tea.

Astus wrote:My point is that there is a tendency that Zen (and Buddhism in general) is primarily/only about meditative practice. That's what Zen people (and Buddhists) do. If you are a Zen follower you are necessarily a Zen practitioner, and practitioner means meditating. The programs of a Zen community consists mainly of meditation practice. Intensive practice is a retreat with lots of meditation. There is no Sunday school, nothing like a catechism, nothing particular to accept as true or a specific code of conduct to follow - or in Buddhist terms, no correct view and no correct ethics. Although there are talks about buddha-nature, emptiness, the bodhisattva precepts, but they are not really more important than ritual eating and drinking. Actually, even meditation is not a well developed subject, there are mostly generalisations and simple instructions.


Astus wrote:They are not considered meditation, unless the argument is that "everything is meditation as long as you are aware of what you do", i.e. meditation is "being in the present". They are elements carried on in various communities without much consideration. But of course there is no particular reason as for why wear robes mimicking monks, or why eat like they do (did) in Japan, or why a Zen garden is better than an English garden. However, if those "cultural trappings" were removed completely, Zen would look no different from the Insight Meditation Society or simple meditation groups outside the Buddhist frame. Thus Zen is defined not by what is actually taught but by its outward appearance. Zen is therefore a style.


I'm not clear: is what you're describing here the common "Zen as style" misconception, or what you perceive Western Zen groups actually do?

If the latter, I'm not sure what Western Zen groups you have in mind but your descriptions do not match my experience with Zen groups in the West at all.

On the ground as I've observed, "Meditation" (meaning zazen?) is viewed as one tool among several or many. Practitioners (I have no problem with that word) do quite a bit more than zazen, according to their individual needs/predilections...and have many options depending on the lineage. Many places have programs involving study of classical texts, most have an emphasis on zaike tokudo (taking of lay precepts, with reference to both their common understanding and the additional Zen understanding of these things as tools to point out one's nature), and most take view quite seriously. Some even have Sunday school.

Regarding "ritual eating and drinking", clothing, and other such things I'm not certain if you're saying that these things are cultural/stylistic accretions which folks get hung up on, or that viewing them as mere cultural/stylistic accretions is another symptom of the "Zen as style" disease. I would take the latter view, since the purposes of things like these are well-explained in the tradition I know and have little or nothing to do with tradition, aesthetics or style. The understanding of their use is quite a bit more than "everything is meditation as long a you are aware of what you do, i.e. meditation is 'being in the present' ", though those are nice instructions for beginners. In short, a great deal of consideration goes into grasping the "why" of these things, and examining how they may be skillfully used to support the overall intent of Zen: seeing one's nature, clarifying that recognition and causing it to penetrate the body.

Of course practice forms carry a flavor of the cultures they've passed through, and tradition/aesthetics are fine as far as they go. Some folks like that stuff for it's own sake, I suppose. But the general understanding I've encountered is that practice methods and forms have to fit the conditions, and must support the intent mentioned above.

The problem I do see is with a small number of groups that change or jettison such inherited forms without ever having had a clear and deep understanding of what their utility is, and who seem to do so more out of personal aversion to anything "traditional" or "archaic" (or, perhaps, for iconoclastic marketing appeal) than out of a clear grasp of current conditions. The result is indeed a kind of watered-down, easily sold and style-heavy stuff that is probably good for moving books to folks who like the idea of "Zen" but who mostly will never become [here's that word] practitioners.

So in general I agree with you about the problems of Zen-as-style and think you've effectively pointed out some of these pitfalls. But if you mean to describe what is actually happening in Western Zen practice, I think the picture is much more varied and nuanced...certainly more so than one might think surveying the online Zen world.

Such is the case with all traditions, I assume.

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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby seeker242 » Sun Dec 15, 2013 1:49 am

Astus wrote:
seeker242 wrote:Personally, I would not go so far as to say that as chanting, prostrations, gardening, tea ceremony, Oryoki, etc, etc is all itself, meditation.


They are not considered meditation, unless the argument is that "everything is meditation as long as you are aware of what you do", i.e. meditation is "being in the present". They are elements carried on in various communities without much consideration. But of course there is no particular reason as for why wear robes mimicking monks, or why eat like they do (did) in Japan, or why a Zen garden is better than an English garden. However, if those "cultural trappings" were removed completely, Zen would look no different from the Insight Meditation Society or simple meditation groups outside the Buddhist frame. Thus Zen is defined not by what is actually taught but by its outward appearance. Zen is therefore a style.


They are considered meditation at a real zen temple. At the temples in my school they have entire retreats that are just chanting and that's it. It's certainly not just for "decoration". To someone who is not trapped by "cultural trappings", cultural trappings don't even exist. There is no such thing. The purpose of such activity is to practice "mind sitting". Huineng did not teach that "only sitting on the floor with your legs crossed" is meditation.

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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sun Dec 15, 2013 4:39 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?


FWIW it sounds like we had pretty much the same experience with it. I also don't think it has anything to do with Zen per se, but more to do with the culture of some of the "Western Zen" type groups.

Personally, I got alot out of my Zen practice, but I could not get behind the seeming total lack of interest in conceptual Dharma teachings from most of the students I knew, it was a great time but I need something more varied than such a complete reliance on Zazen as the main form of practice, which seems common in this sort of Western Zen.
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Astus » Sun Dec 15, 2013 3:26 pm

Meido wrote: But if you mean to describe what is actually happening in Western Zen practice, I think the picture is much more varied and nuanced...certainly more so than one might think surveying the online Zen world.


I don't have any specific group or organisation in mind. And even if I did I would raise the subject only on the theoretical level because I don't think there's much good in a series of criticisms on an online forum. What I quoted in the OP here is to bring attention to the origin myth and definition of Zen as it is used many times, and that it has an impact on how Zen is perceived and practised. As you say, there are many groups and in those groups there are all sorts of people, so it'd take a thorough investigation to start a discussion on that, and that's not something I have the capacity to do, plus I think it's up to each organisation and individual members to decide what and how they want to do. So I'm writing about the "Western Myth of Zen" on the level of principle and theory and not about any actual institution, teacher or person. That kind of discussion is for those who are in close contact with them.
"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)

“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; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Astus » Sun Dec 15, 2013 4:37 pm

seeker242 wrote:They are considered meditation at a real zen temple.


Isn't that the other extreme, saying that a real Zen temple must take everything (or certain things) as meditation? As above I mentioned, there is that view, when you "just do it" or when "you are aware doing it" means meditation. But then, what's the difference between "just bowing" and "just chanting", and "just listening to music" and "just swimming in a lake"? If there is no difference, then no point in doing those things instead of others. If there is a difference, then it is something else than "just doing it".

For instance, recitation is good for memorising a text. That's what it was/is used for. And if you memorise a text you can always go back to it, reflect on it, etc. And there are reciting mantras for magical effects and reciting the name of buddhas as a form of worship or contemplation. Saying that recitation is for "just reciting" makes it meaningless, as I said above. Same goes for other practices.

To someone who is not trapped by "cultural trappings", cultural trappings don't even exist. There is no such thing.


Cultural trappings is a sort of argument to reduce Zen (Buddhism) to a set of chosen methods and teachings. It doesn't mean that they are actually related to the source culture (Japanese, Chinese, Indian, etc.) or not. So, calling it "cultural" is based on the idea that there is a difference between the Dharma and the culture, a very modern idea actually (that is, the idea of cultural relativism and cultural identity).

The purpose of such activity is to practice "mind sitting". Huineng did not teach that "only sitting on the floor with your legs crossed" is meditation.


If there is an activity to be done, it is not "mind sitting". Chapter five of the Platform Sutra about seated meditation says clearly,

"In this teaching, there is no impediment and no hindrance. Externally, for the mind to refrain from activating thoughts with regard to all the good and bad realms is called ‘seated’ (zuo). Internally, to see the motionlessness of the self-nature is called ‘meditation’ (chan)."

That is, zazen (zuochan, seated meditation) is not a technique or practice, it is not an activity or teaching to follow. "Mind sitting" is not being hung up on sensory and mental phenomena based on the wisdom of emptiness. As the sutra says in the previous chapter,

"There is in the self-nature fundamentally not a single dharma that can be perceived. To think that there were any would be a false explanation, a disaster, a false view of enervating defilements. Therefore, this teaching takes nonthought as its central doctrine."

The Platform Sutra does not recommend or teach any other practice than "no practice". This is also true of Zen in general. Look at the followings.

If you don't see your nature, invoking buddhas, reciting sutras, making offerings, and keeping precepts are all useless. Invoking buddhas results in good karma, reciting sutras results in a good memory; keeping precepts results in a good rebirth, and making offerings results in future blessings-but no buddha.
(Bloodstream Sermon, The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, p 11)

In the authentic transmission of [our] religion, it is said that this Buddha-Dharma, which has been authentically and directly transmitted one-to-one, is supreme among the supreme. After the initial meeting with a [good] counselor we never again need to burn incense, to do prostrations, to recite Buddha’s name, to practice confession, or to read sutras. Just sit and get the state that is free of body and mind.
(Bendowa, Shobogenzo, vol 1, p 5, tr. Nishijima-Cross)

Again [Master Tendō] said, “Practicing [za]zen is the dropping off of body and mind. We need not burn incense, do prostrations, recite the Buddha’s name, confess, or read sutras. When we are just sitting, we have attainment from the beginning.”
(Gyoji, SBGZ, vol 2, p 209)

One day the Councilor Wang visited the master. When he met the master in front of the Monks’ Hall, he asked, “Do the monks of this monastery read the sutras?”
“No, they don’t read sutras,” said the master.
“Then do they learn meditation?” asked the councilor.
“No, they don’t learn meditation,” answered the master.
“If they neither read sutras nor learn meditation, what in the world are they doing?” asked the councilor.
“All I do is make them become buddhas and patriarchs,” said the master.
The councilor said, “‘Though gold dust is valuable, in the eyes it causes cataracts.’”
“I always used to think you were just a common fellow,” said the master.

(Record of Linji, p 38, tr. Sasaki)
"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)

“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; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Meido » Sun Dec 15, 2013 8:18 pm

Astus wrote:So I'm writing about the "Western Myth of Zen" on the level of principle and theory and not about any actual institution, teacher or person. That kind of discussion is for those who are in close contact with them.


Thanks for clarifying.

Though I agree with you that there is such a popular myth of Zen which can reduce it to style and feel-good aphorisms, it seems pretty clear to me that anyone showing up to participate at the majority of Zen groups gets disabused of such things pretty quickly. The "Zen" of the Beats I guess is still popular in college literature classes. Zen-lite or Zen-meets-Advaita can be found in books or expensive seminars. But when folks get their bodies up and actually cross the threshold of most Zen groups these days, what they find is a variety of places trying pretty sincerely to preserve what's important.

It will be interesting to see how things develop. If anything, I'd say in the Western Zen mainstream folks are increasingly taking more seriously things like ritual, precepts, study, creative engagement with the large community, etc. Lots of zazen still going on, of course.

More than myth, what I'm actually concerned with these days is the fact that many folks coming in to explore Zen so lack fundamental attentive focus, body-awareness and energy that foundational practices to remove obstructions require foundational practices to remove obstructions.

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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Astus » Sun Dec 15, 2013 10:43 pm

Meido,

Could you give some examples of those Zen communities where they give a well rounded Buddhist teaching? Where they view Zen as a form of Mahayana Buddhism, complete with a large written canon, religious beliefs and traditions. I'm just curious about who you think of as exemplary transmitters of the Buddhadharma.

From my end, as I don't even live in America, I can see only what they put online, publish in writings and maybe things I hear from others. As an example, on the Zen Studies Society (Daibosatsu Zendo) site on Zen they say,

""Buddha" simply means "awakened one." His great teaching was that we can all awaken; that fundamentally, we are all buddhas— Jewish buddhas, Christian buddhas, Hindu buddhas, Islamic buddhas, Ashanti buddhas, Haudenasaunee buddhas, secular buddhas."

Or here's one description from the Still Mind Zendo website,

"Still Mind Zendo emphasizes the practice of zazen (sitting meditation) above all else, recognizing it as a way for people to deepen their insight and realization of their essential self, which is nothing other than the realization of their lives. And because essential self, or essential nature, is not bound by the limitations of any religion or gender or path in life — not bound, in fact, by anything — we welcome people from all walks of life and from all religious or non-religious backgrounds to sit with us, practicing the development of a still mind as the necessary path to awakening.

Our singular commitment to zazen practice makes our sangha (community) a simple one. Apart from upholding the tradition of the basic Zen chants, we hold no services or other rituals, and we do not wear robes. We are, however, deeply committed to the teachings of the ancestors; to the discipline of the Way; to the attention to posture and detail; to the practice of being in the moment; and to the extension of that practice into every facet of our lives."
"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)

“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; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby Meido » Mon Dec 16, 2013 12:41 am

Not sure what groups anywhere are exemplary transmitters of Buddhadharma. What do you consider a well-rounded approach to Buddhist teaching? Particularly since we're talking about Japanese Zen, which has a large stream of self-view as Ekayana based on recognition of one's nature and transcending divisions of the Three Vehicles.

In any case, mainstream Zen groups are certainly not unaware that the Mahayana has a large corpus of texts. What texts they use and how, along with what Zen-specific texts, will of course vary from one teaching line to another.

You can easily Google in the USA "Zen center ceremony", "Zen center sutras", "Zen center Buddhism", etc. and get long lists of places with activities focused on Mahayana texts, traditional ritual observances and so on. On the Soto side of things, the Soto Zen Buddhist Association (http://www.szba.org) serves as the main organization and vehicle for communication with Soto-shu in Japan. On the Rinzai side there's no central organization, but Rinzai centers are few so it's easy enough to look them up. At our place in Chicago, the weekly study group right now is examining the Vimilakirti Sutra; we do this is in keeping with the traditional Rinzai understanding of the role of sutra study in one's overall training, and the time that one is to do it (cf. Shumon Mujintoron, which is also one of our standard texts and among the required readings for folks wanting to take the 5 precepts).

The problem with these websites as sources, of course, is that they're designed as advertising for something that most non-Buddhists - the majority population in these parts - don't know anything about. So you get a lot of talk meant to stress welcome, accessibility and non-sectarianism. For example:


""Buddha" simply means "awakened one." His great teaching was that we can all awaken; that fundamentally, we are all buddhas— Jewish buddhas, Christian buddhas, Hindu buddhas, Islamic buddhas, Ashanti buddhas, Haudenasaunee buddhas, secular buddhas."


This kind of talk is pretty common. The intent is to stress that folks already adhering to some faith tradition are still welcome, and could still benefit. I don't know of any Buddhist site anywhere that says you must self-identify as a Buddhist and accept core Mahayana teachings or you're not welcome. Now, if you actually go to Daibosatsu, which is a monastery, you'll daily find yourself chanting sutras, bowing to images of Sakyamuni, Manjusri and Samantabhadra, observing ritual days like obon, doing extensive retreat training and so on.

In any case, from within the Zen view of itself I see no problem with saying that anyone, regardless of beliefs and self-identification, could experience awakening if they encounter a realized teacher.

As for:

"Still Mind Zendo emphasizes the practice of zazen (sitting meditation) above all else, recognizing it as a way for people to deepen their insight and realization of their essential self, which is nothing other than the realization of their lives. And because essential self, or essential nature, is not bound by the limitations of any religion or gender or path in life — not bound, in fact, by anything — we welcome people from all walks of life and from all religious or non-religious backgrounds to sit with us, practicing the development of a still mind as the necessary path to awakening.

Our singular commitment to zazen practice makes our sangha (community) a simple one. Apart from upholding the tradition of the basic Zen chants, we hold no services or other rituals, and we do not wear robes. We are, however, deeply committed to the teachings of the ancestors; to the discipline of the Way; to the attention to posture and detail; to the practice of being in the moment; and to the extension of that practice into every facet of our lives."


So this is a group with a lay emphasis that downplays the traditional ritual functions that would normally be done by priests. Which is fine if that suits their situation. Some more welcoming, ecumenical talk. If they want to say "essential nature", ok...I'd quibble, but there's certainly precedent for using words like that.

If you take issue with what you consider an over-emphasis on zazen: let's remember that these folks are not going to sit the 4+ hours/day, along with study, ritual and other practices, that full-timers do. They're likely normal folks who don't spend much time in daily life practicing and studying. So what's wrong with stressing zazen as the primary practice, and having occasional periods of intensive retreat as they do? I see they also chant basic sutras and try to remain present and aware in daily life. What's wrong with them benefiting in this way according to their capacity?

Again, boots on the ground is really the only way to know what the situation in a given group is, and what they're actually doing and studying. But in general, the trend I've observed in USA Zen groups at least is an increase in emphasis on Buddhist basics and Mahayana texts. Ritual and ceremony are more common...partly because a general acceptance of Buddhism is greater than in the past, and partly because westerners have inherited those ceremonial roles from retiring/deceased Japanese teachers. There is a greater emphasis on tradition for various reasons. Where you used to hear talk about "Zen", you now hear people emphasizing "Zen Buddhism". Even Sanbo Kyodan groups, which had such an impact on Zen here, seem these days to de-emphasize Sanbo Kyodan as an actual organization and self-defined reform movement, and instead stress that they incorporate both traditional Rinzai and Soto elements within their practice.

All of this is for the better or worse, depending on your orientation.

~ Meido
Last edited by Meido on Mon Dec 16, 2013 1:06 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Western Myth of Zen

Postby shel » Mon Dec 16, 2013 12:56 am

Meido wrote:The result is indeed a kind of watered-down, easily sold and style-heavy stuff that is probably good for moving books to folks who like the idea of "Zen" but who mostly will never become [here's that word] practitioners.

So in general I agree with you about the problems of Zen-as-style and think you've effectively pointed out some of these pitfalls. But if you mean to describe what is actually happening in Western Zen practice...

Seems like an apt response to the OP, but what you describe "is actually happening in Western Zen practice." Indeed, a lot of funky things are actually happening in Western Zen practice. Have you read many of the current articles at sweepingzen.com? And all those involved are "practitioners."

If you take issue with what you consider an over-emphasis on zazen: let's remember that these folks are not going to sit the 4+ hours/day, along with study, ritual and other practices, that full-timers do. They're likely normal folks who don't spend much time practicing and studying.

How many Western Zen practitioners sit 4+ hours/day, along with study, ritual and other practices? More than a 100? and does that significantly benefit them? If it does, how is that benefit expressed? If it's expressed you must be able to describe how it's expressed.
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