Samsaric_Spiral wrote:I am a Soto Zen practitioner, and I believe this stuff is not important to the practice. Rather, living in the moment and dropping the subject/object dichotomy in all activities takes priority. Whether rebirth is true or not has little to no impact on my life at the moment; if it were either true or false, a practitioner would still go about his daily tasks without intent, goal, or an "I"-barrier. Soto Zen is more concerned with daily living, hence why it is a great school for non-monastic people. I believe in almost all Zen schools, all ideology is treated as non-absolute and provisional, so attaching oneself to ideology could serve as a barrier to sustaining Beginner's Mind/Mindfulness.
I agree, if one is interested only in sustaining a selfless awareness, no issues of past and future are relevant, not even the present. But then, why is selfless awareness important? Why sustain a beginner's mind? Sports, dating, computer games, etc. are all fun, aren't they? Doing daily tasks without intent sounds interesting. But what are those daily tasks? A butcher's daily tasks are Zen practice if done with mindfulness? Stealing the tax payer's money is just fine if done as a beginner? How about cheating on one's spouse or beating the kids? And these are just simple ethical issues that one can actually face. If Soto Zen is concerned about daily living, how is it addressed with the single idea of acting without a goal? And if one has truly no purpose in life, why get out of bed at all? These are real questions of daily life, where causes and conditions matter. Actions have consequences, and behind all action there is intention. Which intention is right, which is wrong? And so we arrive at the teaching of karma and dependent origination, and from that to rebirth, the matter of life and death.
Soto Zen does have precepts to follow. However, people are encouraged to make the precepts "ingrained" within themselves, so spontaneous compassionate action can emerge more often. The Diamond Sutra says real merit comes from good acts of charity where there is no perception of a giver, no perception of someone receiving a gift, and no perception of a gift. In other words, it is 'just doing', where subject-object dichotomy fall apart. There are still precepts that one must practice with, like a raft, but eventually they become second-nature and the raft may be put behind.
Soto Zen also acknowledges actions have consequences. The accumulation and effects of these are what's referred to Karma in Zen.
Siddhartha's Cūļa-māluńkya Sutra alludes to how we will never have an absolute
answer to whether the Tathagata exists after death. What's important aren't the intellectual answers to such questions, but how we live our lives right now. In Soto Zen, living with compassion, awareness, and in the moment are the three most important things. My Sensei also emphasizes on the resolution of opposites, and I think he's referring to the collapse of subject/object dichotomy during immediate experience, and the lack of separation between stillness/movement and time/space (check Dogen Uji Koan) during such experiences.
True, for lay people, this is all not important. They can feel content with sitting a little in silence. However, that also means one is not ready to transform one's entire life and continue the bodhisattva's work in every aspect of daily living. That's what being a lay person actually means.
The distinction between lay persons and heavy practitioners can be quite arbitrary sometimes. Zazen is not about feeling content.
In Soto Zen it is emphasized every being, everything, shares the same Buddha-nature. When people sit in Shikantaza with single-minded effort in the Zendo, and when in proper posture, everyone is said to be enlightened in that moment. Such titles are irrelevant towards Soto practice, since there is no "end" to the practice; no Satori that one is trying to attain, unlike in the Rinzae school. Of course, one's practice deepens as they continue, but it can provide obstacle when one reflects on such "improvements". Nothing to attain, nothing to lose.