Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Indrajala » Mon May 14, 2012 4:58 pm

Frank wrote:I feel pretty much the same. I think mainly in the west people get fooled into thinking Ch'an and Zen is illogical babblings and not so much in the east since it comes from there and has only taken hold in the west in the last hundred years. So many here are uneducated or mislead about it.


I've noticed Japanese Zen teachers tend to focus on their own sect above the greater pan-Buddhist teachings, whereas Chinese Chan teachers will make use of everything and even advocate Nianfo practices alongside Chan. Japanese Zen is based heavily on the exegeses of records of Chan masters rather than on sūtra or even śāstra, which is where maybe the illogical babbling comes from as they're attempting to emulate what they see in the Chan records.

Japanese Zen has seemingly always had a strong attachment to sectarian literature and it determined the direction it took from the beginning up until even today. The word zengaku 禅学 doesn't refer to the practice of Zen meditation, but to the study of Zen literature. On the other hand, Chinese Chan never existed as a sect the way it did in Japan, so people were free to study and pursue anything they wanted without concern for sectarian divisions. This is why in Chan nowadays you don't see any incoherent babbling. Things are thought out. In modern Zen they're just towing the line found in the literature without relying on more reasonable ways of thinking like you find in pan-Buddhist literature.

I have argued elsewhere that Zen was and still is largely a literary movement rather than being a practice lineage. That is a potent and volatile statement to make, but there is the prescriptive and then there is the descriptive. Dogen and Eisai were both literati and their descendants within both Rinzai and Soto likewise continued with studying the Chan records as a mainstream pursuit. In modern times there is great emphasis placed on meditation and perhaps in the English speaking world anyone affiliated with Zen will feel that way, but this betrays the historical reality as well as how Zen exists in Japan today.

Like Japanese Buddhism in general nowadays you will find a hereditary priesthood that performs archaic rites as a commercial entirely for-profit enterprise. However, a minority of priests will pursue academia, which is where zengaku thrives. This is where they get down to the fine details of what every little thing in a massively nebulous Chan record means. Finally, you will find a few eminent Zen teachers who are popular with foreigners and emphasize zazen above all else. However, they are the minority and do not represent Zen as it exists today nor as how it ever existed.

This is why if you are interested in Zen and are not overly attached to Japanese culture, I recommend you find a Chinese Chan teacher or even just begin to read the modern literature coming out of Taiwan. You will get logical and well-reasoned arguments and minimal bullshit. No weird language. A lot of compassionate concern for humanity and the environment.

Some people might not appreciate the seemingly conservative stances some Chan teachers take on marriage and sex, but at the end of the day they want the best for everyone and you are not obliged to agree with everything they say.

In my experience both in Taiwan and Japan I can say hands down Taiwanese Chan as it exists now has a strong element of practice and discipline while in Japan it is just lacking. In Japanese Zen people might enjoy the liberty to go have drinking parties and joke about everything being "one flavour", but that kind of behaviour leads nowhere. In Taiwanese Chan drinking is frowned upon and discouraged, but you'll get sincere and genuine teachers (many of whom speak English) who have cultivated true bodhicitta and live a very moral well disciplined lifestyle.

In other words, in my experience I've not encountered incoherent rambling or nonsense either in the living Chan tradition I've met or in the contemporary literature that spawns from it. Japanese Zen as it is sold and marketed in the English speaking world on the other hand has little to offer someone wanting a means to overcome suffering in a coherent and disciplined way.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Indrajala » Mon May 14, 2012 5:07 pm

Dechen Norbu wrote:You know, Frank, the more zen practitioners think like you, the less chances frauds will have to keep fooling people.
But you know, from my contact with some "zen circles", I also get the impression that there are those who want to be fooled. That poor excuse for "Zen" is the kind of Zen they want. Uncompromising, witty, cool, trendy... worthless.
Give them the real thing and they will run away like wild horses.


This is possibly one contributing factor as to why Chinese Chan has failed to really appeal to a lot of westerners.

In Chan you're expected to behave yourself well and confess any and all misdeeds you have committed as a means of self-reform towards purity of the three karmas of body, speech and mind. It might not be fun, but it leads away from samsaric ways.

As for Zen as it is sold in the west...

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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Frank » Mon May 14, 2012 5:10 pm

Dechen Norbu wrote:You know, Frank, the more zen practitioners think like you, the less chances frauds will have to keep fooling people.
But you know, from my contact with some "zen circles", I also get the impression that there are those who want to be fooled. That poor excuse for "Zen" is the kind of Zen they want. Uncompromising, witty, cool, trendy... worthless.
Give them the real thing and they will run away like wild horses.

Well said sir! Bravo! People who just want to be hip, wear meditation beads for fashion and use this fictional illogical Zen as a way to do whatever they want and claim it's Zen! It started with Jack Kerouac, drug and alcohol abusing writer writing a hip story and tying it to Zen. To this day I never say I practice Zen to uneducated people or non practitioners as uneducated people frequently equate it with a do nothing, drug culture of the so called Zen hippies. ''Cool man like getting baked and meditating yourself to another universe? Awesome.'' I say I practice Ch'an since the hippies never took over that word.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby shel » Mon May 14, 2012 5:12 pm

Frank wrote:
Let me just ask you this: Have you ever had a Zen teacher who ever referred to themselves as a Zen Master? If not, why not if that's what they are and not simply a role that they are playing?
Yes, my current Ch'an teacher, albeit he has never literally said ''I am a Zen master.''

Yes? You wrote that he does not refer to himself as a Zen master. I'll add that he will not refer to himself as someone who has mastered Zen. The title of "Zen master" is an honorific. It does not show ability but only expresses respect towards those who hold the title, for having completed forms of training. That is why others address a "Zen master" as a Zen master but they will not refer to themselves as such.
Last edited by shel on Mon May 14, 2012 5:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Frank » Mon May 14, 2012 5:13 pm

Huseng wrote:
Dechen Norbu wrote:You know, Frank, the more zen practitioners think like you, the less chances frauds will have to keep fooling people.
But you know, from my contact with some "zen circles", I also get the impression that there are those who want to be fooled. That poor excuse for "Zen" is the kind of Zen they want. Uncompromising, witty, cool, trendy... worthless.
Give them the real thing and they will run away like wild horses.


This is possibly one contributing factor as to why Chinese Chan has failed to really appeal to a lot of westerners.

In Chan you're expected to behave yourself well and confess any and all misdeeds you have committed as a means of self-reform towards purity of the three karmas of body, speech and mind. It might not be fun, but it leads away from samsaric ways.

As for Zen as it is sold in the west...

Image


Exactly Huseng!!! This is a prime example of the kind of garbage i'm talking about!!!
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Frank » Mon May 14, 2012 5:15 pm

Huseng wrote:
Dechen Norbu wrote:You know, Frank, the more zen practitioners think like you, the less chances frauds will have to keep fooling people.
But you know, from my contact with some "zen circles", I also get the impression that there are those who want to be fooled. That poor excuse for "Zen" is the kind of Zen they want. Uncompromising, witty, cool, trendy... worthless.
Give them the real thing and they will run away like wild horses.


This is possibly one contributing factor as to why Chinese Chan has failed to really appeal to a lot of westerners.

In Chan you're expected to behave yourself well and confess any and all misdeeds you have committed as a means of self-reform towards purity of the three karmas of body, speech and mind. It might not be fun, but it leads away from samsaric ways.

As for Zen as it is sold in the west...

Image


Exactly Huseng!!! This is a prime example of the kind of garbage i'm talking about!!! Specifically the "Zen in the art of..." books that mostly have NOTHING to do with Zen! It just sells books when they are titled like that. People just don't understand what Zen is!!! I blame Jack Kerouac and the beat generation, they passed it down to the hippies and so on until today where we now have to suffer morons everywhere trying to use Zen as a hip way to sell things.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby shel » Mon May 14, 2012 5:20 pm

Frank wrote:
Dechen Norbu wrote:You know, Frank, the more zen practitioners think like you, the less chances frauds will have to keep fooling people.
But you know, from my contact with some "zen circles", I also get the impression that there are those who want to be fooled. That poor excuse for "Zen" is the kind of Zen they want. Uncompromising, witty, cool, trendy... worthless.
Give them the real thing and they will run away like wild horses.

Well said sir! Bravo! People who just want to be hip, wear meditation beads for fashion and use this fictional illogical Zen as a way to do whatever they want and claim it's Zen! It started with Jack Kerouac, drug and alcohol abusing writer writing a hip story and tying it to Zen. To this day I never say I practice Zen to uneducated people or non practitioners as uneducated people frequently equate it with a do nothing, drug culture of the so called Zen hippies. ''Cool man like getting baked and meditating yourself to another universe? Awesome.'' I say I practice Ch'an since the hippies never took over that word.

"Ch'an!" "Cool dude, you like know Kung fu!"
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Frank » Mon May 14, 2012 5:24 pm

shel wrote:
Frank wrote:
Let me just ask you this: Have you ever had a Zen teacher who ever referred to themselves as a Zen Master? If not, why not if that's what they are and not simply a role that they are playing?
Yes, my current Ch'an teacher, albeit he has never literally said ''I am a Zen master.''

Yes? You wrote that he does not refer to himself as a Zen master. I'll add that he will not refer to himself as someone who has mastered Zen. The title of "Zen master" is an honorific. It does not show ability but only expresses respect towards those who hold the title, for having completed forms of training. That is why others address a "Zen master" as a Zen master but they will not refer to themselves as such.



I'm not sure what your game is, you seem to just want to argue and you're a bit rude and basically insulted me and a huge part of my sangha
shel wrote:
Frank wrote:
I did learn from a Zen teacher for a very short while who had no idea what he was talking about, he wasn't a fraud, he just gave bad advice and taught things that were counter to the Dharma, probably because he was not ready to teach or just didn't understand the Dharma fully. All of his students were only his students for a short while for this reason. He eventually left the temple and moved elsewhere. If just anyone could teach Zen, I would imagine his students would have stayed under him and somehow still learned the right stuff and experienced Kensho or even come to enlightenment through his teachings or at the very least would have found new insights on the Dharma and better life experiences overall. Instead they realized he could not effectively teach Zen, and left. On a happy note, six years later I found out he is doing very well and has many students at the center he now teaches at so it seems he came into his own and (hopefully) became a better teacher!

shel wrote: Or does he simply have better students? :smile: I don't say that as a putdown, just something to consider.
so i'm not going to talk to you anymore about this. Oh and, just saying "I don't say that as a putdown..." does not mean it's not a putdown. If that logic worked you could say "You and all of your fellow practitioners that left are bad students! I don't say that as a putdown..." just as easily.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby shel » Mon May 14, 2012 5:46 pm

Frank, are you familiar with the Zen phrase, "when the student is ready the teacher will appear"? That's not illogical!
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Frank » Mon May 14, 2012 9:27 pm

shel wrote: "Ch'an!" "Cool dude, you like know Kung fu!"
But I will talk about this since it's hilarious and not part of the argument nonsense. I actually practice Shaolin kung fu as part of my Ch'an practice lol! Although strictly for mediation and health. I also find qigong, in combination with the aerobic kung fu, helps develop energy for wakefulness in sitting meditation. I only do single person forms which are far removed from actually fighting or even learning how to fight or fighting moves. The Shaolin monks call it ''moving Ch'an''. They are basically elaborate aerobics that require memory and concentration.
Last edited by Frank on Mon May 14, 2012 9:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby shel » Mon May 14, 2012 9:31 pm

I just do yoga for wakefulness in sitting meditation. No levitation though. :smile:
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Frank » Mon May 14, 2012 9:38 pm

shel wrote:I just do yoga for wakefulness in sitting meditation. No levitation though. :smile:

awesome. Specifics? I'm always interested in wakefulness techniques as sleepiness is the bane of my existence when it comes to meditation.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby shel » Mon May 14, 2012 9:54 pm

Image

Seane Corn on DVD. Hey, at least it's not Yoga Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby ElephantsYeah » Mon May 14, 2012 10:34 pm

As an aside, a lot of these same issues have been seen before in Chan (to say nothing of Zen) - see Jiang Wu's 2008 study, "Enlightenment in Dispute", which looks at a 17th-century resurgence of "beating-and-shouting" style Chan a la Linji. According to this study, even the dharma heir of one prominent teacher of the time challenged the validity of his teacher's rather theatrical approach, since (as it seemed to him) it was just imitating behavior reported in hagiography.

Another dharma heir of the same teacher raised the touchy issue of "dharma transmission" - practices such as daifu (transmission by proxy, in which a master transmitted the dharma to a monk on behalf of his deceased master) and yaosi (transmission by remote succession, in which a monk declared himself the master's legitimate dharma heir without ever having met the master in person) are claimed by Wu to have been "extremely popular". By questioning such practices, this monk essentially marginalized some rather famous masters of the time; the whole business led to a lawsuit.

I'm not an academic, so I don't know how Wu is received in the field or if he has a specific axe to grind.

I guess my point in mentioning this is not that Chan sucks or is corrupt - on the contrary! - but that it seems to be a feature of human nature that we gravitate to the exciting, unorthodox, and antinomian aspect of things, rather than the years of patient, diligent work aspect of things. Students who are lazy or indifferent about examining teachers, generally get the teachers they deserve, not because of some karmic "magic" but because of a compatible style or maturity level, perhaps. So as others have already advised, it's important to find a teacher you respect, rather than buying into the whole "everything the Master does is a koan" trip.

*Edit: success -> succession
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Frank » Tue May 15, 2012 12:32 am

shel wrote:Image

Seane Corn on DVD. Hey, at least it's not Yoga Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate.
Thanks, looking it up on amazon. :anjali:
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Frank » Tue May 15, 2012 12:40 am

Elephantsyeah, that is really something! I did not know that. So it's not a new problem and it's not just some lost in translation problem in the west. Very eye opening. I have always been suspect of violent masters.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Matylda » Tue May 15, 2012 3:22 pm

Huseng wrote:
Frank wrote:I feel pretty much the same. I think mainly in the west people get fooled into thinking Ch'an and Zen is illogical babblings and not so much in the east since it comes from there and has only taken hold in the west in the last hundred years. So many here are uneducated or mislead about it.


I've noticed Japanese Zen teachers tend to focus on their own sect above the greater pan-Buddhist teachings, whereas Chinese Chan teachers will make use of everything and even advocate Nianfo practices alongside Chan. Japanese Zen is based heavily on the exegeses of records of Chan masters rather than on sūtra or even śāstra, which is where maybe the illogical babbling comes from as they're attempting to emulate what they see in the Chan records.


Is that so? Whom do you mean when you write ''Japanese Zen teachers''? There are many sutra commentaries in Japan. Also some shastras were commented as well. I wonder whom do you really mean by those zen masters? Are they really Japanese? In Japan 99% of zen teachers completed their study at Buddhist universities, so the claim could be difficult to defend. And most of them have good knowledge of sutra etc. including more esoteric parts like dharanis and their use.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Indrajala » Tue May 15, 2012 3:43 pm

Matylda wrote:Is that so? Whom do you mean when you write ''Japanese Zen teachers''? There are many sutra commentaries in Japan. Also some shastras were commented as well. I wonder whom do you really mean by those zen masters? Are they really Japanese? In Japan 99% of zen teachers completed their study at Buddhist universities, so the claim could be difficult to defend. And most of them have good knowledge of sutra etc. including more esoteric parts like dharanis and their use.


Zen as it stands in Japan historically and presently is less pan-Buddhist than Chinese Chan is.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Matylda » Tue May 15, 2012 4:52 pm

Huseng wrote:
Matylda wrote:Is that so? Whom do you mean when you write ''Japanese Zen teachers''? There are many sutra commentaries in Japan. Also some shastras were commented as well. I wonder whom do you really mean by those zen masters? Are they really Japanese? In Japan 99% of zen teachers completed their study at Buddhist universities, so the claim could be difficult to defend. And most of them have good knowledge of sutra etc. including more esoteric parts like dharanis and their use.


Zen as it stands in Japan historically and presently is less pan-Buddhist than Chinese Chan is.


It does not answer my questions.

As for your claims it is just sort of misunderstanding. Of course each school in Japan teaches its particular view, method etc. However you are never bound only to ONE tradition or school. There are some zen priests who explored and practiced other traditions and vice verse. It is completely free in Japan, where you go once you complete your education. I know a temple with one zen master where monks of 4 different schools gathered. It was some 20 years ago.

Historically Japanese monks were free to move between any of the existing school in Japan. They were not so free to travel abroad until the mid of the XIX century. So called ''sectarianism'' appeared when in the 70ties of the XIX century a Japanese gov. demanded from each school some clear basic and distinctive education for monks to recognize them as priests in the public temples. It was regulated for the reason of safety or order.

Might be Chinese chan is very pan Buddhist but then may lack also very precise teaching of chan etc. it is not the case in Japan. Then with its pan-Buddhism it would be just a general mahayana teaching.
However Chinese monks tried, without any success in the beginning of the XX century to re-transmit from Japan to China some lost tradition of their own ancient past, like shingon. Moreover Japanese Buddhist universities offered many Taiwanese monks in the 70ties and 80ties of the XXth century scholarships and chance to study in Japan, which was very much appreciated. Were they dissatisfied?
I mylself had guided a group of some 20 or 30 nuns from Taiwan in the late 80ties to one of the prominent Japanese zen monastery, to get permission to have a look at the cloistered part of the monastery, namely sodo or zendo as it is known in the west. The reason was that they wanted to build a nunnery however had no idea how this part should look or be constructed. Well it was surprise for me to hear it. But I was happy I could guide them and help.

I read some statements of some Taiwanese who spend years in japan studying and practicing with some Japanese zen masters. Well opinion I read was not great, but lacked the harsh criticism I read in your comments. I hope it is not general opinion in Taiwan. As for the mainland China it seems that they have much less inferiority or superiority idea and keep warm relations with Japanese monasteries.

I feel that there will be some distinction between both traditions of China and Japan. But they should not be the point of superior or inferior opinions. And people according to their affinity may connect themselves with this or that tradition. Otherwise to prove oneself by criticism of other tradition which one does not understand correctly or completely is not very elegant or proper.

As for the discipline etc. I think it would be better I leave this part since there is NO PLACE today where you do not see or hear about this problem. And to build up an opinion on such things is nothing better then those things themselves. One can find in japan fine and ''pure'' teachers, monks, priests and places to practice. I am very sorry that you had not luck to visit nice place and you were exposed to bad boys :)

I have no opinion about so called Western zen... since it is a phenomenon in its own right and very alien in Japan... there is no such zen in japan like in the West.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby ElephantsYeah » Thu May 17, 2012 2:18 am

To bring this topic back to the original question:

Frank, in general, if you think a teacher has given you what you think is a bullsh*t answer, call him or her on it, and see how it goes. If you don't like the way it goes, find another teacher.

As beginners, we compare our teachers to impossible hagiographical models, and it may be that some teachers you will meet are locked into those very same models. Other teachers may not be locked into those models, but respond along the same lines, in an attempt to probe the bounds of our ability to memorize so-called spontaneous words and deeds. Yet other teachers will do other things.

It really comes down to finding someone you can work with at this stage of your practice, which is often more of a matter of personality than anything else.

Hope this helps,
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