The Tao of Zen?

Re: The Tao of Zen?

Postby Ikkyu » Mon Jul 09, 2012 8:17 pm

Jikan wrote:Indeed. It's possible to be trained as a veterinarian and a Buddhist too, but that doesn't mean theories of animal health care are forms of Buddhism.


There are some fundamental similarities between Taoist and Buddhist philosophy that allow them to be harmonized. That isn't to say that Taoism is Buddhism per se, just that on the most fundamental level their metaphysical stances are the same.

The Tao has no character or components. It cannot be named or described. It is changeless, formless, outside of ordinary existence and yet intimately connected with all. Similarly, Nibbana has no characteristics. If it did it would be subject to no-self and thus be suffering, which it is not. It exists beyond duality, just as the Tao is beyond duality. They are both beyond being and non-being. The purpose of Taoism is to be one with -- essentially to attain -- Tao... to be one with existence and understand things as they are (c.f. dharmata/thathata). The purpose of Buddhism is to attain Nibbana, quite similar. The issue of freedom from suffering is the only one that seems sort of ambivalent in Taoism, however all the Taoists I have spoken with describe suffering -- namely anger, fear, etc. -- to be against the way that things are. Meditation also features in both Taoism and Buddhism, albeit differently.

My understand of Buddhism is that the Dharma has been presented in many ways at many times depending on the needs and cultural backgrounds of the people receiving it. On a subtle level we can see aspects of the Dharma in most, if not every philosophy, ideology, religion and belief system. This doesn't mean that Dharma is everything, but it does point out that everything is intimately connected with everything else. To pin down Dharma or Tao as one thing is to restrict it and to misunderstand the fact that there are many ways but one goal.

In any case, and getting back to the point at hand, the use of Taoist rhetoric in many Ch'an and Zen commentaries by numerous patriarchs isn't coincidental.
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Re: The Tao of Zen?

Postby Astus » Tue Jul 10, 2012 10:16 am

Ikkyu wrote:The Tao has no character or components. It cannot be named or described. It is changeless, formless, outside of ordinary existence and yet intimately connected with all. Similarly, Nibbana has no characteristics. If it did it would be subject to no-self and thus be suffering, which it is not. It exists beyond duality, just as the Tao is beyond duality. They are both beyond being and non-being. The purpose of Taoism is to be one with -- essentially to attain -- Tao... to be one with existence and understand things as they are (c.f. dharmata/thathata). The purpose of Buddhism is to attain Nibbana, quite similar.


Such a description of nirvana makes it a metaphysical, abstract thing. That way people can match it with any such similar notion of God/Truth/Heaven/Soul/etc. as they like. First of all, nirvana is not a thing, a state, or a realm, but the final end of the causes of suffering. Like, if you quit smoking, being a non-smoker is not some special realisation, it is simply that you don't want any more tobacco. And not wanting more is just the lack of desire, not aversion or anything else. Nirvana is the lack of identifying with the five aggregates, no more "I, me, mine". Or, using emptiness, it is the lack of grasping at views, not reifying things any more. But neither emptiness, nor selflessness are new states or things. That's why it is also called seeing things as they really are (yathā-bhūta-jñāna-darśana), or simply suchness (tathatā). It is also seeing dependent origination, as dependent origination is emptiness itself, they are not separate. That's how on a single blade of grass there are infinite 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: The Tao of Zen?

Postby Ikkyu » Thu Jul 19, 2012 10:31 am

Astus wrote:
Ikkyu wrote:The Tao has no character or components. It cannot be named or described. It is changeless, formless, outside of ordinary existence and yet intimately connected with all. Similarly, Nibbana has no characteristics. If it did it would be subject to no-self and thus be suffering, which it is not. It exists beyond duality, just as the Tao is beyond duality. They are both beyond being and non-being. The purpose of Taoism is to be one with -- essentially to attain -- Tao... to be one with existence and understand things as they are (c.f. dharmata/thathata). The purpose of Buddhism is to attain Nibbana, quite similar.


Such a description of nirvana makes it a metaphysical, abstract thing. That way people can match it with any such similar notion of God/Truth/Heaven/Soul/etc. as they like. First of all, nirvana is not a thing, a state, or a realm, but the final end of the causes of suffering. Like, if you quit smoking, being a non-smoker is not some special realisation, it is simply that you don't want any more tobacco. And not wanting more is just the lack of desire, not aversion or anything else. Nirvana is the lack of identifying with the five aggregates, no more "I, me, mine". Or, using emptiness, it is the lack of grasping at views, not reifying things any more. But neither emptiness, nor selflessness are new states or things. That's why it is also called seeing things as they really are (yathā-bhūta-jñāna-darśana), or simply suchness (tathatā). It is also seeing dependent origination, as dependent origination is emptiness itself, they are not separate. That's how on a single blade of grass there are infinite buddhas.


Author Kenneth Kraft quotes the late Ven. Seung Sahn (founder of the Kwan Um School of Zen -- arguably the largest Zen school in the West) on the issue of Zen and Western culture in his book Zen, Tradition and Transition (pp. 194–195), "When Bodhidharma came to China, he became the First Patriarch of Zen. As the result of a 'marriage' between Vipassana-style Indian meditation and Chinese Taoism, Zen appeared. Now it has come to the West, and what is already here? Christianity, Judaism, and so forth. When Zen 'gets married' to one of these traditions, a new style of Buddhism will appear. Perhaps there will be a woman Matriarch and all Dharma transmission will go only from woman to woman. Why not? So everyone, you must create American Buddhism."

If a very important Zen abbot is saying that Taoism has had this much influence, isn't there at least a little room to suggest this may be in some sense true?
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Re: The Tao of Zen?

Postby Astus » Thu Jul 19, 2012 11:58 am

Ikkyu wrote:If a very important Zen abbot is saying that Taoism has had this much influence, isn't there at least a little room to suggest this may be in some sense true?


If said Zen abbot were also a scholar in the relevant field then yes. Otherwise, it has no relevance that he was a famous Zen teacher.
"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: The Tao of Zen?

Postby /johnny\ » Thu Jul 19, 2012 10:42 pm

Ikkyu wrote:I have studied both Buddhism and Taoism, and while many individuals assert that Taoism has had no influence on Buddhism I find this difficult to believe. Philosophical Taoism (Daojia) at least has had some semblence of influence on Ch'an Buddhism in China. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy asserts that Taoism has had major influences on Buddhism, especially during the T'ang Dynasty period in China when Ch'an/Zen was flourishing. It is no surprise to me that Dogen spoke of "the Way" (Tao) and "the ten-thousand things" (both terms that are featured numerous times in both the Tao Te Ching and Zhuangzhi).

The author Ray Grigg devoted a whole book to explaining how Taoism influenced Zen Buddhism.

A documentary on Zen Buddhism by Empty Mind Films, The Zen Mind, postulates that the "Tao... is to be found in Zen."

I once spoke to the abbot of the Sangha I attend for zazen. He leads a tradition based on Thich Nhat Hanh's, that is... the Lam Te (Rinzai) Thien (Vietnamese Zen) tradition. he has studied with the Dalai Lama, in the Vajrayana, Theravada and Mahayana. He is a former monk and now is a leading priest. When I asked him about the connection between Taoism and Buddhism, he described how "Taoism explains why, whereas Buddhism explains how and what". He also said that Vietnamese Buddhism had been influenced by both Taoism and Confucianism.

The I-Kuan Tao sect attempts to combine Zen Buddhism with Taoism.

There's an old myth postulating that Lao Tzu taught the Buddha many things when venturing to India. Although this is pretty much like I said, a myth.

Lastly, I just can't read the Tao Te Ching without feeling that it was written by a very enlightened individual. Its wisdom is equal, if not greater than that, of some sutras.

So basically my question is, what are your thoughts? Do you feel that Zen is influenced by Taoism or Daojia? Do you consider Lao Tzu to have been enlightened, perhaps a Pratekyabuddha or Arhat? And aren't there 84,000 different teachings What are your thoughts?

:yinyang: :buddha1:


I for one think that Taoism is awesome, I think that Zen is awesome, so mix them up and you get double awesome! Even when I solely practiced Zen I felt this way. I don't claim too know anything more than that, and my opinion on who influenced who and the true source for Zen is irrelevant. I think it's mostly lost in time. There are many VERY good points coming from all directions so: who knows?

It probably doesn't really matter, but as far as secular historians are concerned the bottom line is:

Yes, Taoism had some influence on Zen. Also, Zen influenced Taoism, possibly even more than Taoism influenced Zen. However Zen people will almost always refute this, so you are probably asking the wrong people. For the most part, only secular historians will be able too answer this question in an unbiased manner. And of course some Zen practitioners are comfortable saying that this is true. And some are totally unbiased and refute this idea for purely logical reasons. I'm by no means saying that anyone who doesn't agree with this is wrong. As I said, there are many different view points and lots of good points on all sides!

Heck, I would imagine going onto a Taoist site and asking if Zen heavily influenced Taoism would generate the same response: "No! Ours influenced theirs! Not the other way around! Our stuff is original!" And then a varied array of other opinions ranging from agreement too middle ground statements.

And the same goes for anything like this. When something is supposed too be very unique and ultimate, saying it was influenced by anything else could be seen as an attempt too take away that uniqueness. The idea is that Bodhidharma brought this truly unique version of Buddhism straight from the Buddha himself in an unbroken lineage! So saying that it could even remotely be influenced by another religion is problematic for many. Especially because many people theorize that the origins of Zen are simply this: Buddhism enters the east, mixes with Taoism, voila': Zen. This is what creates the biggest defense mechanism, and where all of the opposition comes from. If no one said this, and everyone only said: "Zen came from the east, and after taking root, over a few hundred years, it took on one or two Taoist ideas." there would be much less opposition.

Which of these versions is true? It's really lost in time. Everything is educated guessing and speculation. But it can safely be said that: (while firmly leaving debate over the beginning and source of Zen aside due too lack of historical sources) over time Taoism and Zen have influenced each other.
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Re: The Tao of Zen?

Postby Ikkyu » Fri Jul 20, 2012 11:41 pm

Astus wrote:
Ikkyu wrote:If a very important Zen abbot is saying that Taoism has had this much influence, isn't there at least a little room to suggest this may be in some sense true?


If said Zen abbot were also a scholar in the relevant field then yes. Otherwise, it has no relevance that he was a famous Zen teacher.


It would seem to be a given that a Zen ABBOT -- not just a monk or priest -- would have an understanding of Zen much more thorough than you or I. Perhaps I'm assuming too much.

Seung Sahn was a Jogye Order master and the founder of the International Kwan Um School of Zen -- the largest Zen institution in the Western world. To quote an associated webpage:

As one of the early Korean Zen masters to settle in the United States, he opened many temples and practice groups across the globe. He was known for his charismatic style and direct presentation of Zen, which was well tailored for the Western audience. Known by students for his many correspondences with them through letters, his utilization of Dharma combat, and expressions such as "only don't know" or "only go straight" in teachings, he was conferred the honorific title of Dae Soen Sa Nim in June 2004 by the Jogye order for a lifetime of achievements. Considered the highest honor to have bestowed upon one in the order, the title translates to mean "Great honored Zen master". He died in November that year at Hwa Gae Sah in Seoul, South Korea, at age 77.


He also authored at least 10 books on Zen Buddhism. His dharma heirs include Bo Mun, Bon Haeng, Bon Shim, Bon Soeng, Bon Yeon, Bon Yo, Dae Bong, Dae Gak, Dae Kwan, Dae Kwang, Hae Kwang, Ji Bong, Soeng Hyang, So Bong, Su Bong, Won Gwang, Wu Bong and Wu Kwang.
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Re: The Tao of Zen?

Postby Ikkyu » Fri Jul 20, 2012 11:46 pm

/johnny\ wrote:
Ikkyu wrote:I have studied both Buddhism and Taoism, and while many individuals assert that Taoism has had no influence on Buddhism I find this difficult to believe. Philosophical Taoism (Daojia) at least has had some semblence of influence on Ch'an Buddhism in China. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy asserts that Taoism has had major influences on Buddhism, especially during the T'ang Dynasty period in China when Ch'an/Zen was flourishing. It is no surprise to me that Dogen spoke of "the Way" (Tao) and "the ten-thousand things" (both terms that are featured numerous times in both the Tao Te Ching and Zhuangzhi).

The author Ray Grigg devoted a whole book to explaining how Taoism influenced Zen Buddhism.

A documentary on Zen Buddhism by Empty Mind Films, The Zen Mind, postulates that the "Tao... is to be found in Zen."

I once spoke to the abbot of the Sangha I attend for zazen. He leads a tradition based on Thich Nhat Hanh's, that is... the Lam Te (Rinzai) Thien (Vietnamese Zen) tradition. he has studied with the Dalai Lama, in the Vajrayana, Theravada and Mahayana. He is a former monk and now is a leading priest. When I asked him about the connection between Taoism and Buddhism, he described how "Taoism explains why, whereas Buddhism explains how and what". He also said that Vietnamese Buddhism had been influenced by both Taoism and Confucianism.

The I-Kuan Tao sect attempts to combine Zen Buddhism with Taoism.

There's an old myth postulating that Lao Tzu taught the Buddha many things when venturing to India. Although this is pretty much like I said, a myth.

Lastly, I just can't read the Tao Te Ching without feeling that it was written by a very enlightened individual. Its wisdom is equal, if not greater than that, of some sutras.

So basically my question is, what are your thoughts? Do you feel that Zen is influenced by Taoism or Daojia? Do you consider Lao Tzu to have been enlightened, perhaps a Pratekyabuddha or Arhat? And aren't there 84,000 different teachings What are your thoughts?

:yinyang: :buddha1:


I for one think that Taoism is awesome, I think that Zen is awesome, so mix them up and you get double awesome! Even when I solely practiced Zen I felt this way. I don't claim too know anything more than that, and my opinion on who influenced who and the true source for Zen is irrelevant. I think it's mostly lost in time. There are many VERY good points coming from all directions so: who knows?

It probably doesn't really matter, but as far as secular historians are concerned the bottom line is:

Yes, Taoism had some influence on Zen. Also, Zen influenced Taoism, possibly even more than Taoism influenced Zen. However Zen people will almost always refute this, so you are probably asking the wrong people. For the most part, only secular historians will be able too answer this question in an unbiased manner. And of course some Zen practitioners are comfortable saying that this is true. And some are totally unbiased and refute this idea for purely logical reasons. I'm by no means saying that anyone who doesn't agree with this is wrong. As I said, there are many different view points and lots of good points on all sides!

Heck, I would imagine going onto a Taoist site and asking if Zen heavily influenced Taoism would generate the same response: "No! Ours influenced theirs! Not the other way around! Our stuff is original!" And then a varied array of other opinions ranging from agreement too middle ground statements.

And the same goes for anything like this. When something is supposed too be very unique and ultimate, saying it was influenced by anything else could be seen as an attempt too take away that uniqueness. The idea is that Bodhidharma brought this truly unique version of Buddhism straight from the Buddha himself in an unbroken lineage! So saying that it could even remotely be influenced by another religion is problematic for many. Especially because many people theorize that the origins of Zen are simply this: Buddhism enters the east, mixes with Taoism, voila': Zen. This is what creates the biggest defense mechanism, and where all of the opposition comes from. If no one said this, and everyone only said: "Zen came from the east, and after taking root, over a few hundred years, it took on one or two Taoist ideas." there would be much less opposition.

Which of these versions is true? It's really lost in time. Everything is educated guessing and speculation. But it can safely be said that: (while firmly leaving debate over the beginning and source of Zen aside due too lack of historical sources) over time Taoism and Zen have influenced each other.


I contend that the reason certain Zen Buddhists denounce the notion that Taoism somehow influenced Ch'an/Zen is because many Zen schools regard themselves as "ekayana" (the One Vehicle) or something similar in that their schools -- and Zen Buddhism through Bodhidharma, Huineng, etc. in general -- are the true transmissions of the Buddha's teachings. To corroborate with Taoism is almost like treason to these people, and they become very defensive over the issue. Despite teh fact that there are 84,000 ways to the dharma, they can't stand the idea that their true Buddhadharma has somehow been "tainted" apparently.
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Re: The Tao of Zen?

Postby Meido » Sat Jul 21, 2012 1:03 am

Ikkyu wrote:I contend that the reason certain Zen Buddhists denounce the notion that Taoism somehow influenced Ch'an/Zen is because many Zen schools regard themselves as "ekayana" (the One Vehicle) or something similar in that their schools -- and Zen Buddhism through Bodhidharma, Huineng, etc. in general -- are the true transmissions of the Buddha's teachings. To corroborate with Taoism is almost like treason to these people, and they become very defensive over the issue. Despite teh fact that there are 84,000 ways to the dharma, they can't stand the idea that their true Buddhadharma has somehow been "tainted" apparently.


You may contend that, but your contention is based on a mistaken understanding of what "Ekayana" means in Zen.

And all Buddhist schools, as far as I know, consider themselves true transmissions of Buddhadharma. That is nothing special.

I believe you participated in this recent thread:

viewtopic.php?f=69&t=8355&hilit=taoism+buddhism#p100328

Another recent thread over at ZFI may also be of interest:

http://www.zenforuminternational.org/vi ... en#p126905

I thought Ven. Huifeng's contributions to both of those threads were particularly useful for anyone interested in this topic.

As for the rest of your contention, I have never heard anyone voice concern that Buddhadharma in China was "tainted" through contact with other traditions, or say that to admit Taoist influence would somehow be "treasonous" to Buddhism.

Speaking for myself (and echoing what all of my Zen teachers have stated) I would say that any text, tradition or practice which helps one toward the recognition of one's true nature and the integration/embodiment of that (i.e. "seeing nature, becoming Buddha") is certainly valid. Which is part of what Ekayana implies in Zen, by the way: not triumphalism, but a path that is all-encompassing - and can freely use various means (even non-Buddhist ones) if they are useful - precisely because it takes the essence of all paths as its basis.

~ Meido
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Re: The Tao of Zen?

Postby Astus » Sat Jul 21, 2012 2:42 pm

Ikkyu,

Seung Sahn was a religious authority within his own school and made a significant impact in the Western Buddhist community. That doesn't make him a historian or a scholar of East Asian studies. Just because someone is a bishop of a diocese it doesn't mean he is necessarily proficient in the historic development of Christianity, or a general of military history, or a surgeon of medical history. In fact, because they all have their own specific understanding there is a good chance their interpretation will be biased and not based on verifiable research.

And that is an important point here, research. To say that Zen was influenced by Taoism, it is the very first task to define what constitutes Zen and what Taoism, and then show how the influenced has happened and in what area. Zen defines itself as a Buddhist school, uses Buddhist sources and claims Indian Buddhist origins. Whatever teachings are there in Zen, they can be traced back to Buddhist sutras and treatises. So, what is Taoist in it?
"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: The Tao of Zen?

Postby /johnny\ » Mon Jul 23, 2012 6:17 am

One question might be: how could Zen NOT have any Taoist influence? Taoism was largely practiced when Zen arrived. Many Zen adherents were originally Taoist. So the odds of it having zero influence and there being no trace of Taoism in Zen is extremely small.

Do we see Bon influence in Vajrayana?

Do we see Hindu influence in late Indian Buddhist schools?

Do we see influences from Shinto in Japanese Buddhism?

Why would Zen be the ONLY transplant school that has zero influence from the indigenous religion of it's new home?

Again, this is ignoring the birth of Zen, and assuming it did come straight from the Buddha through Bodhidharma (or not, there is NO way too tell). I am not saying Zen is simply Buddhism + Taoism with nothing else going on. I am saying that, however Zen was first formed, it did at some point pick up, and does still have Taoist influence. It would be shocking and truly amazing if it didn't. This kind of thing is unheard of. When things move too new cultures they are always, without exception, influenced by whatever culture they move into. There is no way too get around this.

The degree of influence is the reason for debate. The biggest and most problematic, as I said before, is the "Zen is just Taoism with a few Buddhist elements." This is so extreme it doesn't even make any sense. Almost all Zen schools teach the core Buddhist teachings that make Buddhism what it is.

Then there's the "Zen has no Taoist influence whatsoever." This is just as extreme and just as impossible.

My personal opinion is it's about 80% Buddhism and 20% Taoism. But they are so compatible, and Taoism so vague and ethereal, that only a careful eye will even notice the Taoist influence. Most Taoist thought at the time of Zen's birth was largely philosophical and very vague and not unified in practice or belief systems. I mean, look at Vajrayana, the influence from Bon and Hinduism is obvious every place you look. But finding Taoism in Zen is a challenge. In fact, it's easier too find Zen in Taoism then the other way around!

Taoism is so vague it makes it pointless too debate! It's about finding "The Way" which is so loosely defined it may well be Nirvana! And most Taoist practices are just as vague (Except the ones that are from Buddhism). So it may have given a little of it's flavor too Zen, but not in a way which changed Zen's practice or core ideals enough too be discernible too anyone that is not looking for them and schooled in both traditions. If you had a Theravada monk who for some reason knew nothing about other schools of Buddhism (suspend reality for a moment and pretend this guy exists) visit a Zen temple they would not think "I see some other religion everywhere! This isn't Buddhism!" They would see monks meditating and working, and maybe a Dharma talk on Emptiness (which is taught roughly the same in Theravada), or the eightfold path or whatever, some statues of the Buddha, maybe even Kwan Yin who still looks very much like the Buddha in most statuary. Zen is so bare bones that it retains almost nothing BUT the oldest core Buddhist teachings. The monk would just see it as a slightly different version of Buddhism because Taoism is so vague.

However have that same Theravada monk who knows nothing about other schools of Buddhism visit a Vajrayana temple and he would be very confused by what he was seeing. People spinning prayer wheels, bowing down and praying too images of the demonic looking, flame covered Vajrapani, people making mandalas out of sand, maybe hear a talk about the bardo stages from the Tibetan book of the dead, see images of Dugon Trakshad drinking blood from a cup made from a human skull. The monk may even mistake it for another religion entirely.

If it were clothing, Taoism on Zen is like a bracelet and necklace made from clear crystal on translucent thread, barely even noticeable. Hinduism and Bon on Vajrayana is like a three piece suit, hat, and shoes.

Don't get me wrong, Vajrayana is a beautiful thing! I'm just using it as an example because it is very obviously influenced by other religions. This is awesome, many people find greatness in Vajrayana and the combining of ideas has created some true gems of teaching and practice! It has opened up Buddhism for a huge amount of people that wouldn't have practiced it otherwise. Vajrayana is awesome. I especially love Dzogchen! And dream yoga! So amazing!

So is there Taoism in Zen? Of course, how could there not be? Does it make a huge difference? No, not really. In fact Zen is probably the closest too traditional Buddhism out of all the Mahayana schools.
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Re: The Tao of Zen?

Postby Samsaric_Spiral » Sat Aug 04, 2012 6:42 pm

Is the experience of suchness and the Tao the same?
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Re: The Tao of Zen?

Postby /johnny\ » Sun Aug 05, 2012 7:17 am

Samsaric_Spiral wrote:Is the experience of suchness and the Tao the same?



no way too tell but too experience both! as far as i can tell, it is the same. one time i experienced a zen state of mind and i suddenly recalled words from the tao te ching that made no sense when i read them, and i understood them!

but then, at that point, everything made sense. even the forest i was walking next too made sense! the sky made sense, clouds, pavement, the universe... it all made sense. so who knows?
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Re: The Tao of Zen?

Postby Ikkyu » Thu Oct 11, 2012 6:03 am

Astus wrote:Ikkyu,

Seung Sahn was a religious authority within his own school and made a significant impact in the Western Buddhist community. That doesn't make him a historian or a scholar of East Asian studies. Just because someone is a bishop of a diocese it doesn't mean he is necessarily proficient in the historic development of Christianity, or a general of military history, or a surgeon of medical history. In fact, because they all have their own specific understanding there is a good chance their interpretation will be biased and not based on verifiable research.

And that is an important point here, research. To say that Zen was influenced by Taoism, it is the very first task to define what constitutes Zen and what Taoism, and then show how the influenced has happened and in what area. Zen defines itself as a Buddhist school, uses Buddhist sources and claims Indian Buddhist origins. Whatever teachings are there in Zen, they can be traced back to Buddhist sutras and treatises. So, what is Taoist in it?


Speaking of scholars, the late great D.T. Suzuki (a professor of Buddhist philosophy at Tokyo University, no less), in his "Manual of Zen Buddhism", entitles a section of Bodhidharma's sermons "BODHIDHARMA ON THE TWOFOLD ENTRANCE TO THE TAO", including excerpts from "The Transmission of the Lamp", amid other sermons.
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Re: The Tao of Zen?

Postby Anders » Thu Oct 11, 2012 11:51 am

"Tao" is just a transliteration of the character 道, meaning 'way'.

This is where the translators leave their marks on a text (same as when they capitalise Mind and so forth). There is no real reason to not translate 道 as 'way', because it gets used all the time in Chinese Buddhism - because it's a standard Chinese word and Buddhism has a 'way' to talk about (pun intended). This notion of the word 'Tao' carrying some special Taoist significance is purely an artifact of western translators. 道 simply means 'way'. Yes, there is a "Taoism" where this word has special and central significance, but they don't have a monopoly on using the word 'way'.

Confucianism has its own 道/Tao/Way. Kumarajiva, the great Indian translator, used 道 to translate the sanskrit "Marga", meaning "Path." But sometimes it was used to translate Jnana (knowledge) and even Bodhi (awakening). It would be ridiculous to suppose he was influenced by Taoism. He simply used a Chinese word that fit the bill. But outside of the big three, 道 is also a complete mundane word. Here's something from the dictionary:

    2dào 道 N. [noun] road; path ◆M. [nominal measure word] ① (for rivers/topics/etc.) ② (for a course (of food); a streak (of light); etc.) ◆V. [verb] ① say; speak; talk (introducing direct quote, novel style) … ② think; suppose ◆B.F. [bound form, bound morpheme] ① channel ② way; reason; principle ③ doctrine ④ Daoism ⑤ line ⑥〈hist.〉 [history] ⑦ district; circuit canal; passage; tube ⑧ say (polite words) … See also 4dǎo, 4dāo 4dǎo 导/道[導/-] B.F. [bound form] ① guide; lead … ② transmit; conduct … ③ instruct; direct …
    4dāo 道 in shénshendāodāo … 神神道道 R.F. [reduplicated form] 〈topo.〉[topolect, non-Mandarin "dialect"] odd; fantastic; bizarre [36]

That's a whole lot of meanings besides the "Dao that can not be spoken of."
"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

--- Gandavyuha Sutra
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Re: The Tao of Zen?

Postby udawa » Thu Oct 11, 2012 11:56 am

Anders wrote:"Tao" is just a transliteration of the character 道, meaning 'way'.

This is where the translators leave their marks on a text (same as when they capitalise Mind and so forth). There is no real reason to not translate 道 as 'way', because it gets used all the time in Chinese Buddhism - because it's a standard Chinese word and Buddhism has a 'way' to talk about (pun intended). This notion of the word 'Tao' carrying some special Taoist significance is purely an artifact of western translators. 道 simply means 'way'. Yes, there is a "Taoism" where this word has special and central significance, but they don't have a monopoly on using the word 'way'.

Confucianism has its own 道/Tao/Way. Kumarajiva, the great Indian translator, used 道 to translate the sanskrit "Marga", meaning "Path." But sometimes it was used to translate Jnana (knowledge) and even Bodhi (awakening). It would be ridiculous to suppose he was influenced by Taoism. He simply used a Chinese word that fit the bill. But outside of the big three, 道 is also a complete mundane word. Here's something from the dictionary:

    2dào 道 N. [noun] road; path ◆M. [nominal measure word] ① (for rivers/topics/etc.) ② (for a course (of food); a streak (of light); etc.) ◆V. [verb] ① say; speak; talk (introducing direct quote, novel style) … ② think; suppose ◆B.F. [bound form, bound morpheme] ① channel ② way; reason; principle ③ doctrine ④ Daoism ⑤ line ⑥〈hist.〉 [history] ⑦ district; circuit canal; passage; tube ⑧ say (polite words) … See also 4dǎo, 4dāo 4dǎo 导/道[導/-] B.F. [bound form] ① guide; lead … ② transmit; conduct … ③ instruct; direct …
    4dāo 道 in shénshendāodāo … 神神道道 R.F. [reduplicated form] 〈topo.〉[topolect, non-Mandarin "dialect"] odd; fantastic; bizarre [36]

That's a whole lot of meanings besides the "Dao that can not be spoken of."


Thanks for that Anders. Interesting.
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Re: The Tao of Zen?

Postby Anders » Thu Oct 11, 2012 12:38 pm

Ikkyu wrote:In any case, and getting back to the point at hand, the use of Taoist rhetoric in many Ch'an and Zen commentaries by numerous patriarchs isn't coincidental.


I think it is, at least in the sense that you seem to be attributing to it.

Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of admiration for Zhuang Zi, and to some extent the DDJ (although it does go too much overboard on political anarchism for my tastes), and I can believe they were even awakened beings. Some great masters in Chinese Buddhism have ventured to say they were Pratyeka Buddhas. So the idea that Daoism and Buddhism are related streams is not that alien.

And of course there is traces of Daoist influence in Chan. Just not in the way it has been presented by some western authors. The Daoist influence is really more accurate to represent as "Chinese cultural influence." When you source indigenous references in Chan texts, I don't see Daoism given preference over the five classics, confucianism etc. It all forms part of the wider cultural heritage and referencing them is simply to employ literary language when you are Chinese.

And this influence is by no means confined to Chan Buddhism. Tiantai, Huayen and so forth, is probably even more ripe with such allusions because they appealed to a high literary audience.

But what I don't think we can take from this is to assume that any of Chan, Tiantai or Huayen professed to a special significance to Daoism above its own scriptures. Or for that matter, anything approaching any kind of equal spiritual stature. And a bit of context is merited. The citations of sutras from Chan masters vastly outnumber the odd reference to Lao Zi or Zhuang Zi. It's a drop in the ocean in comparison. And for all the supposed syncretism of Chan, why is it so hard to find a Chan master openly talking about the DDJ or CZ? Most of the times they get addressed, and not used as a mere cultural reference, it is to state how it is not the equal of Buddhism.

But what really drives the point home for me is that you can actually find examples of syncretist Daoist-Buddhism in Chinese Buddhism. And the impression these texts leave in regards to their hermeneutical priorities and agendas are totally different from what the Chan texts leave you with. But to find these things you have to look to a period of Buddhism pre-dating the Chan school's arrival from India, before Kumarajiva established a Buddhism less reliant on matching Buddhism to indigenous concepts. Buddhists in this period loved to compare the two and often came out with a view wherein Daoist was a very harmonious addition to Buddhism that suited the Chinese so much better than plain Indian Buddhism. They weren't shy about it. If you're Buddhist with Daoist leanings, this is the stuff you want.

Even someone like Sengzhao, a student of Kumarajiva and one of the foremost proponents of Madhyamika in Chinese Buddhism, show more Daoist leanings than the classical Chan masters.

In comparison, Chan texts read like straight up Mahayana Buddhism. A Chinese version of it no doubt, but one whose hermeneutical concerns and platform was a strictly Buddhist one. You have to go forward to the Ming dynasty when syncretism across the board really comes in vogue, to find examples of a Chan that bothers itself with its doctrinal relationship to Daoism and Confucianism.

All this is not to say there are not a great many parallel similarities between Daoism and [Chan] Buddhism. Or that people today can not make the marriage between Buddhism and Daoist (Chinese religion in general is such a giant melting pot, I am sure it happens. Though their Daoism is probably a far cry from what most westerners imagine), or that it shouldn't be done. Bottomline is, we're looking for truth and we should accept it where we find it.

But looking for significant Daoist influence on Chan Buddhism, or looking to Chan as a symbiosis of the two, is simply barking up the wrong tree. Not that the tree doesn't exist. You just have to look elsewhere for your Daoist-Buddhism symbiosis. Chan is simply Chinese Mahayana. Equal emphasis on 'Chinese' and 'Mahayana'.
"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

--- Gandavyuha Sutra
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Re: The Tao of Zen?

Postby Ikkyu » Tue Oct 16, 2012 6:06 am

/johnny\ wrote:One question might be: how could Zen NOT have any Taoist influence? Taoism was largely practiced when Zen arrived. Many Zen adherents were originally Taoist. So the odds of it having zero influence and there being no trace of Taoism in Zen is extremely small.

Do we see Bon influence in Vajrayana?

Do we see Hindu influence in late Indian Buddhist schools?

Do we see influences from Shinto in Japanese Buddhism?

Why would Zen be the ONLY transplant school that has zero influence from the indigenous religion of it's new home?

Again, this is ignoring the birth of Zen, and assuming it did come straight from the Buddha through Bodhidharma (or not, there is NO way too tell). I am not saying Zen is simply Buddhism + Taoism with nothing else going on. I am saying that, however Zen was first formed, it did at some point pick up, and does still have Taoist influence. It would be shocking and truly amazing if it didn't. This kind of thing is unheard of. When things move too new cultures they are always, without exception, influenced by whatever culture they move into. There is no way too get around this.

The degree of influence is the reason for debate. The biggest and most problematic, as I said before, is the "Zen is just Taoism with a few Buddhist elements." This is so extreme it doesn't even make any sense. Almost all Zen schools teach the core Buddhist teachings that make Buddhism what it is.

Then there's the "Zen has no Taoist influence whatsoever." This is just as extreme and just as impossible.

My personal opinion is it's about 80% Buddhism and 20% Taoism. But they are so compatible, and Taoism so vague and ethereal, that only a careful eye will even notice the Taoist influence. Most Taoist thought at the time of Zen's birth was largely philosophical and very vague and not unified in practice or belief systems. I mean, look at Vajrayana, the influence from Bon and Hinduism is obvious every place you look. But finding Taoism in Zen is a challenge. In fact, it's easier too find Zen in Taoism then the other way around!

Taoism is so vague it makes it pointless too debate! It's about finding "The Way" which is so loosely defined it may well be Nirvana! And most Taoist practices are just as vague (Except the ones that are from Buddhism). So it may have given a little of it's flavor too Zen, but not in a way which changed Zen's practice or core ideals enough too be discernible too anyone that is not looking for them and schooled in both traditions. If you had a Theravada monk who for some reason knew nothing about other schools of Buddhism (suspend reality for a moment and pretend this guy exists) visit a Zen temple they would not think "I see some other religion everywhere! This isn't Buddhism!" They would see monks meditating and working, and maybe a Dharma talk on Emptiness (which is taught roughly the same in Theravada), or the eightfold path or whatever, some statues of the Buddha, maybe even Kwan Yin who still looks very much like the Buddha in most statuary. Zen is so bare bones that it retains almost nothing BUT the oldest core Buddhist teachings. The monk would just see it as a slightly different version of Buddhism because Taoism is so vague.

However have that same Theravada monk who knows nothing about other schools of Buddhism visit a Vajrayana temple and he would be very confused by what he was seeing. People spinning prayer wheels, bowing down and praying too images of the demonic looking, flame covered Vajrapani, people making mandalas out of sand, maybe hear a talk about the bardo stages from the Tibetan book of the dead, see images of Dugon Trakshad drinking blood from a cup made from a human skull. The monk may even mistake it for another religion entirely.

If it were clothing, Taoism on Zen is like a bracelet and necklace made from clear crystal on translucent thread, barely even noticeable. Hinduism and Bon on Vajrayana is like a three piece suit, hat, and shoes.

Don't get me wrong, Vajrayana is a beautiful thing! I'm just using it as an example because it is very obviously influenced by other religions. This is awesome, many people find greatness in Vajrayana and the combining of ideas has created some true gems of teaching and practice! It has opened up Buddhism for a huge amount of people that wouldn't have practiced it otherwise. Vajrayana is awesome. I especially love Dzogchen! And dream yoga! So amazing!

So is there Taoism in Zen? Of course, how could there not be? Does it make a huge difference? No, not really. In fact Zen is probably the closest too traditional Buddhism out of all the Mahayana schools.


道冠儒履佛袈裟 "With a Taoist cap, a Buddhist cassock, and a pair of Confucian shoes,
會成三家作一家 I have harmonized three houses into one big family!"


-- Shan-hui/Fu Ta-shih (497-?)

Three Mysteries

三玄三要事難分
得意忘言道易親
一句明明該萬象
重陽九日菊花新

"The three mystical doors and the three essential points
Are in actuality hard to divide and distinguish.
If you get the idea, you must forget the words:
This is the simple way to approach the Tao.
All phenomena are clearly comprehended in one sentence:
At the feast of Double-Nine, the chrysanthemums bloom afresh."


-- Ch'an master Fen-yang Shan-chao (汾陽善昭 Funnyõ Zenshõ, 947-1024)
(The Golden Age of Zen 209-10, 317 n.45)

The Great Tao

The Great Tao
大道無形 Daidõ mugyõ, "The Great Tao is without form,
眞理無對 Shinri mutai, The Absolute is without opposite;
等空不動 Hitoshiku kû fudõ, It is both empty and unmoving,
非生死流 Shõji no nagare ni arazu; It is not within the flow of Samsara;
三界不攝 Sangai fushõ, The Three Realms do not contain it,
非古夾今 Koraikon ni arazu. It is not within past, future, or present."


-- Nan-ch'üan P'u-yüan (Nansen Fugan 南泉普願)
(The Development of Chinese Zen After the Sixth Patriarch 58)
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Re: The Tao of Zen?

Postby Anders » Tue Oct 16, 2012 8:17 am

Bolding 'Tao' doesn't mean anything, except to highlight that the translators chose to imply something that isn't in the original text by not just translating it as 'way' or similar. 道 doesn't imply anything uniquely Taoist.

And Shanhui Fuxi actually pre-dates the Chan movement, though he's sort of been posthumously adopted as his style was very Chan-like. Even so, note what he is really saying - "I've harmonised all the major teachings in China" (Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism) - do we need to postulate a three-pronged hybrid here (the influence of Confucianism in Buddhism is to me as interesting as the Daoist one, but most westerners don't think so as it doesn't hold the same appeal as Daoism)? I think what mahasattva Fu is actually saying here is that when you really penetrate the way, all teachings become clear and one can utilise and harmonise all of them, Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike, for the benefit of others.

Someone like the hermit Hanshan (Silly Mountain) is probably your best bet for the alleged Chan-Daoist symbiosis from the classical era of Chan.
"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

--- Gandavyuha Sutra
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Re: The Tao of Zen?

Postby Ikkyu » Sat Oct 20, 2012 7:01 am

Anders wrote:Bolding 'Tao' doesn't mean anything, except to highlight that the translators chose to imply something that isn't in the original text by not just translating it as 'way' or similar. 道 doesn't imply anything uniquely Taoist.

And Shanhui Fuxi actually pre-dates the Chan movement, though he's sort of been posthumously adopted as his style was very Chan-like. Even so, note what he is really saying - "I've harmonised all the major teachings in China" (Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism) - do we need to postulate a three-pronged hybrid here (the influence of Confucianism in Buddhism is to me as interesting as the Daoist one, but most westerners don't think so as it doesn't hold the same appeal as Daoism)? I think what mahasattva Fu is actually saying here is that when you really penetrate the way, all teachings become clear and one can utilise and harmonise all of them, Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike, for the benefit of others.

Someone like the hermit Hanshan (Silly Mountain) is probably your best bet for the alleged Chan-Daoist symbiosis from the classical era of Chan.


The term "Tao" is not only conflated with Zen in classical Chinese texts. For instance, Lao Tzu is mentioned alongside Zen in this poem by Zen master Hsueh-Toh:

The moon floats above the pines
And the ancient veranda is cold
As the ancient clear sounds come to your fingertips.
The old melody usually makes the listeners weep
But Zen music is without sentiment
Do not play again until the great sound of Lao Tzu accompanies you.


Hsueh-Tou (980-1052)
Chinese Zen master
Tetteki Tosui -- "Blowing the Iron Flute"

Otherwise, I understand your point. I like that you said, "I think what mahasattva Fu is actually saying here is that when you really penetrate the way, all teachings become clear and one can utilise and harmonise all of them, Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike, for the benefit of others." A lot of Buddhists are reluctant to admit any foreign influence can be found in Buddhism, whereas I see Chinese culture via the mode of Taoism as influencing Chan. (Just as we can see Shinto influence Buddhism in Japan. Does shibutsu-shugo make Japanese Buddhism inauthentic dharma? Or does the influence of shamanistic Bon or tantric Hinduism on Tibetan Buddhism or Confucianism and Shen worship influencing Chinese Buddhism make Chinese Buddhism or Tibetan Buddhism inauthentic dharma?) And as for Cold (Silly?) Mountain, I do love his poems. :smile:
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Re: The Tao of Zen?

Postby Anders » Sat Oct 20, 2012 9:53 pm

Ikkyu wrote:And as for Cold (Silly?) Mountain, I do love his poems. :smile:


Brainfart on my part. There are two "Hanshan"s. Hánshān (Cold Mountain) the famous 9th century poet and Hānshān (Silly Mountain), the famous ming dynasty Chan master and poet. The latter took his name as a wordplay on the former. I just got them switched round. Here's a bit from Silly Mountain to make up for it:

    "Put a fish on land and he will remember the ocean until he dies. Put a bird in a cage, yet he will not forget the sky. Each remains homesick for his true home, the place where his nature has decreed that he should be."

    "Man is born in the state of innocence. His original nature is love and grace and purity. Yet he emigrates so casually without even a thought of his old home. Is this not sadder than the fishes and the birds?"
"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

--- Gandavyuha Sutra
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