Zen's view of bodhisattvas

Zen's view of bodhisattvas

Postby Luke » Wed Apr 02, 2014 10:32 pm

How does Zen regard standard Mahayana bodhisattvas, such as Manjusri and Amitabha? Does Zen view them as only being symbols of the enlightened mind? Does Zen ever view them partially as separate, heavenly beings, as well? I guess I am looking for traditional Japanese and Chinese Zen/Chan views on this issue.

I would appreciate direct answers and not cryptic "What is Manjusri? Wooden shoes in the toolshed!"-type answers! lol
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Re: Zen's view of bodhisattvas

Postby Nighthawk » Thu Apr 03, 2014 12:30 am

I think it's only western Zen that describes these Buddhas as mere symbols. The real Zen in Japan views Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as real.
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Re: Zen's view of bodhisattvas

Postby seeker242 » Thu Apr 03, 2014 2:30 am

Luke wrote:Does Zen view them as only being symbols of the enlightened mind? Does Zen ever view them partially as separate, heavenly beings, as well?


Traditional eastern zen generally views them as both. Although, you could say that zen does not really view anything as "separate" as it is a tradition of "non-duality". :namaste:
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: Zen's view of bodhisattvas

Postby Huifeng » Thu Apr 03, 2014 4:08 am

Maybe time to move past the notion of a "Zen view" -- and I don't mean that in the flippant Zen smarty pants kind of way. This is a tradition that spans 1000+ years, over perhaps the populated part of the planet. There are lots of different people who may say this or that, but there is no standard "Zen view" on this, or almost any other matter. People may point to their favorite ancient or modern Zen master, and say "Zen says ...". But really, that's just Master X, and not the whole of the Zen tradition.

Maybe you have to work it out for yourself. ;)

~~Huifeng
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Re: Zen's view of bodhisattvas

Postby dude » Thu Apr 03, 2014 4:35 am

I'd like to hear specific views from specific schools on this.
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Re: Zen's view of bodhisattvas

Postby Astus » Thu Apr 03, 2014 11:28 am

Besides what Master Huifeng has already pointed out that there is no such thing as "Zen orthodoxy", I'd like to add that Zen has never existed in some sort of vacuum independent of the larger Buddhist tradition. Dogen criticises "sectarianism" in his Butsudo (Buddha Way):

"The treasury of the eye of the true dharma, the wondrous mind of nirvana, correctly transmitted by the buddhas and ancestors, they rashly call the "Zen school." They call the ancestral masters "Zen ancestors"; they call the students "Zen masters" or "Zen preceptors"; or they call themselves "lines of the Zen houses." These are all but "branches and leaves" that have taken a biased view as the "root." When, throughout the Western Heavens and Eastern Earth, from ancient times till the present, there has not been the term "Zen school,” rashly to call oneself [by this term] is to be a demon who would destroy the way of the buddha, an unbidden enemy of the buddhas and ancestors."

And if we look at the larger tradition (as does Steven Heine in Opening a Mountain and Shifting Shape, Shaping Text) we find that Buddhists believed not only in the usual Mahayana cosmology but also the local common beliefs (Chinese/Japanese/etc. values, folklore and mythology). And that's not different from us today when we take modern ideas for granted. Therefore the conflict is not on the level of "Zen views" but rather modern conditioning against an ancient one.

As for what could be qualified as Zen, it is better understood as a higher level teaching within Mahayana that focuses on wisdom. As such, it emphasises direct understanding of the truth of the real nature of mind and appearances, i.e. emptiness. Direct means not mediated by explanations but experienced personally. So, it is the final moment before enlightenment on the path of sila, samadhi and prajna. Therefore external entities like bodhisattvas and buddhas have no place here. So, Dazhu Huihai writes (Entering the Tao of Sudden Enlightenment, X63n1223, p23, a9-12):

"Sentient beings must seek to save themselves and not wait for the Buddha to do it. If the Buddha could liberate sentient beings, then, since there have been Buddhas as numerous as all the dust motes that have ever existed, surely all of them would have been delivered by now. So why do we still loaf about in these realms of birth and death, unable to become Buddhas? Everyone should understand that sentient beings must save themselves. The Buddha will not do it. Make an effort! Practice yourself! Do not depend upon the power of other Buddhas."
"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: Zen's view of bodhisattvas

Postby Luke » Thu Apr 03, 2014 2:14 pm

Thanks for the replies, everyone. :namaste:


Huifeng wrote:Maybe time to move past the notion of a "Zen view" -- and I don't mean that in the flippant Zen smarty pants kind of way. This is a tradition that spans 1000+ years, over perhaps the populated part of the planet. There are lots of different people who may say this or that, but there is no standard "Zen view" on this, or almost any other matter. People may point to their favorite ancient or modern Zen master, and say "Zen says ...". But really, that's just Master X, and not the whole of the Zen tradition.

Maybe you have to work it out for yourself. ;)

~~Huifeng

I understand what you are saying, Ven. Huifeng. But would you please share with us some of your views regarding sambhogakaya bodhisattvas? I'm sure that many of us here would benefit from your knowledge.
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Re: Zen's view of bodhisattvas

Postby dude » Fri Apr 04, 2014 2:21 am

We do have to work it out for ourselves. It would be foolish to expect the Buddha or anything else to do it for us.
On the other hand, the Buddha's teachings are the only reliable guide I have ever found in my search for answers.
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Re: Zen's view of bodhisattvas

Postby Huifeng » Sat Apr 05, 2014 1:53 am

Luke wrote:I understand what you are saying, Ven. Huifeng. But would you please share with us some of your views regarding sambhogakaya bodhisattvas? I'm sure that many of us here would benefit from your knowledge.


First off, helpful to keep mind the idea of "kaya". While almost uniformly translated into English as "body"--it does indeed have this primary meaning--it can also be a more broad and abstract "corpus", and sometimes is really just figurative / metaphorical. Overly literal readings lead to some weird ideas at times.

As for the "sambhoga" form, what does this mean? The root "bhog" has a semantic range which includes enjoyment, experience, consuming / eating, possessions, and the like. Related is the sense that such enjoyments are the result of something.

I tend to read sambhoga-kaya as the corpus of experiences that a bodhisattva has as a result of their cultivation of the path. These can range from their actual physical form, their mental and emotional state, but also include their immediate possessions, and more broadly their surroundings, environment and the other living beings in that environment. All these things are the objects of experience of the bodhisattva. They way in which the bodhisattva may experience these is subjective, a fairly standard Buddhist point of view, of course. So, others may not perceive these experiences in the same way, see them as enjoyments, etc., even when the bodhisattva does so experience them.

So, I don't really understand it as a type of bodhisattva, ie. "a sambhogakaya bodhisattva", or some "body" that the bodhisattva has.

~~Huifeng
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Re: Zen's view of bodhisattvas

Postby Luke » Sat Apr 05, 2014 10:06 pm

^Thank you, Ven. Huifeng! You have given me a lot to think about. :namaste:

Although one general thing I have realized lately is that I should just try to understand Mahayana Buddhism better as whole, rather than simply trying to find a particular sect to assimilate into.
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Re: Zen's view of bodhisattvas

Postby JamyangTashi » Sat Apr 05, 2014 10:13 pm

Luke wrote:Although one general thing I have realized lately is that I should just try to understand Mahayana Buddhism better as whole, rather than simply trying to find a particular sect to assimilate into.


Does understanding Mahayana Buddhism as a whole mean understanding all the nuances and differences between various sects, or does it mean syncretizing or ignoring those differences as unimportant? A number of different perspectives between schools can be seen in threads on this board, such as Madhyamaka/Yogacara Confusion.
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Re: Zen's view of bodhisattvas

Postby Luke » Sun Apr 06, 2014 10:39 am

JamyangTashi wrote:Does understanding Mahayana Buddhism as a whole mean understanding all the nuances and differences between various sects, or does it mean syncretizing or ignoring those differences as unimportant?

Neither. I meant that I should focus on the points of agreement between the sects, the core Mahayana ideas which they all have in common. I am not trying to say that all differences between sects are unimportant. I am just creating a new short-term goal for myself. But I am sure that whatever I do, it won't impress many people on the internet, and that's fine with me.
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Re: Zen's view of bodhisattvas

Postby Astus » Sun Apr 06, 2014 11:38 am

If you look at current Chinese Buddhism, most organisations are not centred around a specific doctrine or practice, thus they often claim - in line with the idea of Humanistic Buddhism - that they embrace all eight schools of Chinese Buddhism (i.e. Vinaya, Madhyamaka, Pure Land, Chan, Tiantai, Huayan, Yogacara, Tantra).

For instance, in the Fo Guang Shan's school customs (佛光山的宗風), defining their approach, it is stated:

"To propagate all eight schools of Buddhism, and promote the coexistence of monastics and laity."(八宗兼弘,僧信共有。) (also in "The Buddha's Light Philosophy", p 139)

Practically speaking, Chinese Buddhism has never seen strong sectarianism, and monasteries have always accepted all sorts of teachings as long as one abided by the general regulations of monastic life. This, because of projecting Japanese Buddhism on the Chinese, Western scholars often misinterpreted as some sort of syncretism, most often as a mixture of Pure Land and Chan.
"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: Zen's view of bodhisattvas

Postby Luke » Sun Apr 06, 2014 7:14 pm

Astus wrote:If you look at current Chinese Buddhism, most organisations are not centred around a specific doctrine or practice, thus they often claim - in line with the idea of Humanistic Buddhism - that they embrace all eight schools of Chinese Buddhism (i.e. Vinaya, Madhyamaka, Pure Land, Chan, Tiantai, Huayan, Yogacara, Tantra).

Yeah, I find the "unifying" view of Chinese Buddhism quite appealing.

Astus wrote:For instance, in the Fo Guang Shan's school customs (佛光山的宗風), defining their approach, it is stated:

"To propagate all eight schools of Buddhism, and promote the coexistence of monastics and laity."(八宗兼弘,僧信共有。) (also in "The Buddha's Light Philosophy", p 139)

Wow! That's quite a beautiful and inspiring mission statement! :twothumbsup:
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Re: Zen's view of bodhisattvas

Postby dude » Mon Apr 07, 2014 6:29 am

Does understanding Mahayana Buddhism as a whole mean understanding all the nuances and differences between various sects, or does it mean syncretizing or ignoring those differences as unimportant? A number of different perspectives between schools can be seen in threads on this board, such as Madhyamaka/Yogacara ",



Both, don't you think?
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