Myth in Buddhism

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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby plwk » Sun Apr 07, 2013 7:32 am

Huseng, I have always wondered, although I find myself in agreement with some of your ideas but in your sojourn in many places and with many people, how effective has it been in communicating your thoughts such as in this thread and in others to real life sanghas, monastic and lay? Do any of what you pose for us here on a forum would work or impact in a real sangha or would you find yourself isolated to a corner politely with some sympathetic ears at the very most?
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sun Apr 07, 2013 8:23 am

plwk wrote:Huseng, I have always wondered, although I find myself in agreement with some of your ideas but in your sojourn in many places and with many people, how effective has it been in communicating your thoughts such as in this thread and in others to real life sanghas, monastic and lay?


It depends. A lot of the monastics I admire and consider my teachers are basically free agents. They don't get any publicity, but they do their own thing and at times fight unknown battles for the benefit of the Buddhadharma in the world. I owe them a debt of gratitude for enabling me to see through much institutional nonsense. Moreover, they demonstrate it is possible to have a successful and fulfilling life as a monk without signing away all your personal autonomy to some sangha authorities who may or may not have your best interests at heart.

As to how acceptable these specific ideas would be in real life sanghas, I don't think they're received well. The question to ask all the time is, as Cicero suggested, cui bono? Who benefits? If you start asking questions and discerning power structures and the consequential behaviours which are used to support them via affirmations of spiritual authority and other such social mechanisms, a lot of people have a lot to lose, both in terms of social status and money.

This is why you can easily prompt hostile emotional reactions on the part of persons with a vested interest in an institution when you start pointing out all the hypocrisy. If they provide you with a reasonable and unemotional reply, then it shows a solid character on their part, but when they respond with anger it reveals their own personal fragility and lack of decent counterarguments.

I'm always pleased to hear someone who recognizes their own necessary evils and that of their organization, and furthermore makes no bogus excuses for them. We're all guilty of sins just getting through life. No need to put lipstick on a pig.

Back in Canada I expressed myself more or less freely, but some of the older ladies in the Dharma center didn't care for it and I was told in no uncertain terms about their displeasure, but then it was not so much what I was saying, but who I was saying such things. They were old enough to be my mother, so to them I was a little upstart that needed to know his place. Admittedly, I didn't react as stoic-like as I should have, but nevertheless it was a learning experience. We were both driven by emotions in our conflict.

Do any of what you pose for us here on a forum would work or impact in a real sangha or would you find yourself isolated to a corner politely with some sympathetic ears at the very most?


On a small scale it might work, but anything with a large hierarchy and money involved, it probably wouldn't work.

That's why I'm in favour of small-scale, decentralized and autonomous entities which do their own thing but share a collective fellowship and resources where it is appropriate. In old China it used to be like that actually. Each temple was basically autonomous and if you didn't like it, you could easily move on elsewhere and this was acceptable as well as your right as a monk or nun (and ordination was a right, not a privilege). With a lack of surplus money and minimalist power structures there is less room for corrupting influences to creep in. You also can't have chiefs spending large sums of money on unnecessary things.
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby jeeprs » Sun Apr 07, 2013 9:47 am

well I agree with a lot of what you say, but I don't agree that dharma transmission is myth, per se. Genesis - now there's a myth. But not Dharma Transmission.
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby Namgyal » Sun Apr 07, 2013 11:03 am

Huseng wrote:The myth of divine kingship is clearly one example in relatively recent western history which illustrates this point.

Huseng wrote:One example is the theory that there is a "precept essence" that is conveyed from master to disciple when an ordination or lay precepts are given.

Both of these are real, and so are dragons...
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sun Apr 07, 2013 12:33 pm

jeeprs wrote:well I agree with a lot of what you say, but I don't agree that dharma transmission is myth, per se. Genesis - now there's a myth. But not Dharma Transmission.


How could it not be a myth?

You have past figures in a doctrinal lineage passing down this "transmission" from master to disciple, each with the purported realization it affirms. All the actors are extraordinary and form a coherent system which commands authority and respect from believers. It is a sacred narrative. It is a myth.
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby jeeprs » Sun Apr 07, 2013 12:41 pm

'Purported' realization? As distinct from 'actual' realization? Is there really any such condition at all, in the end? Perhaps it's all mythical.
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sun Apr 07, 2013 12:44 pm

jeeprs wrote:'Purported' realization? As distinct from 'actual' realization? Is there really any such condition at all, in the end? Perhaps it's all mythical.


The idea is that everyone in this transmission lineage is somehow above the fray, hence extraordinary.
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Sun Apr 07, 2013 2:12 pm

Huseng wrote:
PadmaVonSamba wrote:Can you cite other problems?


This paper really details the American side of things:

http://www.academia.edu/944019/Richard_ ... _Zen_Roshi


I'm basically saying the myth of transmission is unnecessary and historically has been all too often used to legitimize and affirm power structures. Organized religion is inevitably tied up with money and power regardless of what their official party line is. The institutional form of Buddhism is seldom immune to such corrupting influences.


I got as far as the first paragraph,
which makes this absurd presmise;
The fact is that almost everything about Zen's presentation, practice, and rituals is aimed at producing people who give up their good sense with the promise of a greater gain in the future.

Really?
If I have time, I'll read further on. But I flunked academia.

I'm not saying that you don't have legitimate criticisms regarding the abuse of power
or that hierarchy established by transmission cannot be abused.
But again, look at where you are laying the blame.
You haven't identified any problem with transmission itself.
You've only identified a way that someone else can misuse it,
("...all too often used to legitimize and affirm power structures.")
and merely relegated it to the status of myth
in order to support the argument that abuse of authority is a bad thing,
which I doubt anyone here would disagree with.

But, this is like saying that a string of beads used in meditation is intrinsically problematic
because they could be used to strangle someone,
Or that incense is inherently bad because it could be used to commit arson.
Beads and incense are not necessary either.
And as far as Zen is concerned, neither is talking, but people still do it
and all sorts of problems arise from that.
So, I just don't understand where you have actually established a connection
between transmission itself, and the abuse of authority.
You might as well not post things on the internet either,
considering how much porn there is on the web.

You can get rid of everything that is unnecessary for the attainment of realization
So, why not just start there?

Regarding your statement above:
"...the myth of transmission is unnecessary..."
Can you please elaborate on the distinction between necessary and unnecessary in the zen context?

Thank you.
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby Namgyal » Sun Apr 07, 2013 4:06 pm

Huseng wrote:...passing down this "transmission" from master to disciple, each with the purported realization it affirms. All the actors are extraordinary and form a coherent system which commands authority and respect from believers.

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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby Sherab Dorje » Sun Apr 07, 2013 6:18 pm

My point of disgreement with you Huseng is that it seems to me that you feel that transmission is somehow intrinsically open to exploitation and thus is the reason we should be rid of it. The argument about its efficacy/relevance or even reality as a technique seems to take a back seat to your (justified, I feel) aversion for how it has been used.

But you seem to forget (at times, though you certainly remember at other times :tongue: ) that this is samsara, and even something as sublime as enlightenment can be used as an object of exploitation.

It seems to me to be a case of throwing the baby out... but the truth is I am not so familar with transmission as it exists in the Zen traditions, in the Tibetan Vajrayana transmission is open to everybody that has the karmic preponderance to receive it, ie a Lama will give transmission to everybody present but it is not necessarily the case that everybody will receive it (to the same degree).
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby shel » Sun Apr 07, 2013 7:16 pm

PadmaVonSamba wrote:
Huseng wrote:
PadmaVonSamba wrote:Can you cite other problems?


This paper really details the American side of things:

http://www.academia.edu/944019/Richard_ ... _Zen_Roshi


I'm basically saying the myth of transmission is unnecessary and historically has been all too often used to legitimize and affirm power structures. Organized religion is inevitably tied up with money and power regardless of what their official party line is. The institutional form of Buddhism is seldom immune to such corrupting influences.


I got as far as the first paragraph,
which makes this absurd presmise;
The fact is that almost everything about Zen's presentation, practice, and rituals is aimed at producing people who give up their good sense with the promise of a greater gain in the future.

Really?

I'm not a darkzen fan my any means, but there is something to the anti-intellectualism noted above. I believe it's been expressed in this thread in fact:
randomseb wrote:They [critical thought, analysis, study] are part of the preparatory stage so you have a general idea what you should be doing, but then, it's time to put it all down and just do it!


Now back to the topic...

PadmaVonSamba wrote:I'm not saying that you don't have legitimate criticisms regarding the abuse of power
or that hierarchy established by transmission cannot be abused.
But again, look at where you are laying the blame.

I don't believe it's been suggested that all the blame resides with transmission. Not everyone abuses their authority, and transmission is a contributing factor in a range of possible influences.

You haven't identified any problem with transmission itself.

You just wrote "hierarchy established by transmission," and, "look at where you are laying the blame." Apparently you've thought that the hierarchy established by transmission may be the problem, or rather that the abuse of a hierarchical position established by transmission can be a problem.

You've only identified a way that someone else can misuse it,
("...all too often used to legitimize and affirm power structures.")
and merely relegated it to the status of myth
in order to support the argument that abuse of authority is a bad thing,
which I doubt anyone here would disagree with.

But, this is like saying that a string of beads used in meditation is intrinsically problematic
because they could be used to strangle someone,...

Strangely, what you seem to be failing to appreciate is the possibility that transmission could be true and not a myth. If a someone with transmission "could be" a murder doesn't that make transmission a myth? If a someone with transmission "could be" a selfish sociopath doesn't that make transmission a myth?

In dharma transmission a person is established as a successor in an unbroken lineage of teachers and disciples traced back to the Buddha himself. Yet, as Sara H claims in an other topic, a transmitted teacher is not necessarily a Buddha. If transmitted teachers were at least recognized as Buddhas then transmission would not be a myth. Do you follow?
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Sun Apr 07, 2013 10:38 pm

shel wrote:
PadmaVonSamba wrote:I'm not saying that you don't have legitimate criticisms regarding the abuse of power
or that hierarchy established by transmission cannot be abused. But again, look at where you are laying the blame.

I don't believe it's been suggested that all the blame resides with transmission. Not everyone abuses their authority, and transmission is a contributing factor in a range of possible influences.

I do believe that is what is suggested.

You haven't identified any problem with transmission itself.

shel wrote:You just wrote "hierarchy established by transmission," and, "look at where you are laying the blame." Apparently you've thought that the hierarchy established by transmission may be the problem, or rather that the abuse of a hierarchical position established by transmission can be a problem.

Once again, interpreting what i said as the opposite of what I said. :zzz:

shel wrote:Strangely, what you seem to be failing to appreciate is the possibility that transmission could be true and not a myth.

I never suggested that. Merely following the context of the topic.

shel wrote: If a someone with transmission "could be" a murder doesn't that make transmission a myth? If a someone with transmission "could be" a selfish sociopath doesn't that make transmission a myth?


You are saying that transmission isn't foolproof.
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Sun Apr 07, 2013 11:04 pm

shel wrote: If a someone with transmission "could be" a murder doesn't that make transmission a myth? If a someone with transmission "could be" a selfish sociopath doesn't that make transmission a myth?


If a buddhist commits a crime, then does that make buddhism the path of criminals?

You were not able to establish a cause-and-effect connection between the structure of Zen hierarchy and abuse of authority in other threads. Are you going to be able to do so in this thread?
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Last edited by PadmaVonSamba on Sun Apr 07, 2013 11:26 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby jeeprs » Sun Apr 07, 2013 11:23 pm

Huseng wrote:
jeeprs wrote:'Purported' realization? As distinct from 'actual' realization? Is there really any such condition at all, in the end? Perhaps it's all mythical.


The idea is that everyone in this transmission lineage is somehow above the fray, hence extraordinary.


Actually, having thought about this overnight, I agree that 'dharma transmission' is mythical in some sense, particularly the notion of an 'unbroken chain' stretching back to the Buddha. What concerns me is that it seems a slippery slope to the declaration that the very idea of enlightenment itself is 'mythical'.

As regards being 'above the fray', do you think there is any basis in the traditional distinction which is made between the 'uninformed worldlings' and 'the noble ones'?

D T Suzuki wrote:From the Mahayana point of view, beings are divisible into two heads: those that are enlightened and those that are ignorant. The former are called Buddhas including also Bodhisattvas, Arhats, and Pratyekabuddhas while the latter comprise all the rest of beings under the general designation of bala or balaprithagjanabala meaning "undeveloped", "puerile", or "ignorant", and prithagjana "people different" from the enlightened, that is, the multitudes, or people of ordinary type, whose minds are found engrossed in the pursuit of egotistic pleasures and unawakened to the meaning of life. This class is also known as Sarvasattva, "all beings" or sentient beings. The Buddha wants to help the ignorant, hence the Buddhist teaching and discipline.


...From the online version of Suzuki's translation of the Lankavatara Sutra.
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby Sara H » Sun Apr 07, 2013 11:24 pm

Huseng wrote:
Myth means a story or anything delivered by word of mouth that is regarded as holy, sacred, spiritual and/or endorsed by sufficient numbers of people to make it socially potent.


And,

Huseng wrote: Descriptively, [Dharma Transmission] is a social construct which legitimizes institutional authority. You are are ostensibly qualified to run the show and teach if you have Dharma transmission.

As I said elsewhere, I don't believe in this myth. I would rather see a kind of meritocracy where people are judged capable by virtue of their good qualities, practice and learning.




That's not an accurate use of the word "myth" in this context Huseng.

Dharma transmission is not a "story" that people "believe in".

A kensho confirmation is verifyable by other people who've had them by peer-review.

Refering to Dharma Transmission as a myth in this sense, is like refering to college professors who have PHD's being qualified to teach sudents, who's qualifications can be confirmed by other professors and people with PHD's as a "story that people believe in".

This isn't a narrative, Huseng, the qualifications for this are actually confirmable.

It is a meritocracy.
A meritocracy of people who's qualifications are confirmable by others of their peers.

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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Sun Apr 07, 2013 11:53 pm

A Myth can also refer to something which conveys a deeper truth that would be implied if taken literally.

I do not think dharma transmission in untrue. I do think the concept of it has a lot of different meanings on different levels, according to one's understanding, and that the function of myth can play a role in this too. It's not a matter of deceiving anyone. It has to do with conveying a bigger meaning. But Buddhism is full of myths, especially in the stories of the lives of the Buddha, even in the legend of Shakyamuni.

In fact, we can even look at the story of Buddha holding up the flower and saying nothing. Who knows if that even ever really happened? But that's not the point. Where it becomes a myth is in conveying a deeper meaning. The flower doesn't matter. You know, maybe he held up a mongoose. Whatever. that's not the point.

The point is that here is an understanding that cannot be expressed in words, a realization that one has, and because of that, one knows when somebody else has that realization as well, and it is a supreme understanding, and coupled with that is, supposedly, the ability to teach and to bring others to that point where they get it too. It's not like it's some magic juice that pours out of the teacher's heart into the student's. It's not a blood transfusion. Either the student gets realization, or he doesn't. But because the teacher has that, he can confirm it.

Unspoken confirmation of understanding is not unusual at all. I mentioned "getting the joke" before. That is just one example. Have you ever been in a group situation where one person is making a fool of himself, and it's rather embarrassing to watch, and the other people in the group just sort of glance back and forth at teach at each other, knowingly? They don't have to say anything. maybe they will roll their eyes. Nobody has to validate their experience. It's an unspoken confirmation of understanding.
I know what you know and because of that , I know that you know what I know.

This sort of thing also happens in the student-teacher relationship. The student knows, and the teacher knows that the student knows. But the student can't just say "the teacher knows I know!" the teacher has to confirm it.

This has nothing to do with power or authority or abuse or politics.
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby Sara H » Sun Apr 07, 2013 11:58 pm

[Continued from last post directed to Huseng]
I mean part of the problem is you seem to be thinking that a kensho is only confirmable by the person who is their Master.

No, No, No.

A kensho is easily detectable upon close examination by anyone else who's had one.

It's not just the Master who decides it, and anyone else can go along. (And then we just take the Master's "word")

Everyone else can tell quite plainly: -if they've had one themselves.

And because there's thousands of people with such qualifications, it's quite easy to detect a fraud.

It's not as though people are just making this up as they go along. It's easily detectable and confirmable in others.

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IT IS OUR CHOICE
We can stand in our shadow, and wallow in the darkness,
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby shel » Mon Apr 08, 2013 1:23 am

PadmaVonSamba wrote:
shel wrote:
PadmaVonSamba wrote:I'm not saying that you don't have legitimate criticisms regarding the abuse of power
or that hierarchy established by transmission cannot be abused. But again, look at where you are laying the blame.

I don't believe it's been suggested that all the blame resides with transmission. Not everyone abuses their authority, and transmission is a contributing factor in a range of possible influences.

I do believe that is what is suggested.

Okay, that's what you believe.


PadmaVonSamba wrote:
shel wrote:
PadmaVonSamba wrote:You haven't identified any problem with transmission itself.
You just wrote "hierarchy established by transmission," and, "look at where you are laying the blame." Apparently you've thought that the hierarchy established by transmission may be the problem, or rather that the abuse of a hierarchical position established by transmission can be a problem.

Once again, interpreting what i said as the opposite of what I said. :zzz:

I was addressing what you apparently thought, not what you said. You apparently thought correctly.

PadmaVonSamba wrote:
shel wrote:Strangely, what you seem to be failing to appreciate is the possibility that transmission could be true and not a myth.

I never suggested that. Merely following the context of the topic.

I wrote about an apparent failure to appreciate, not about what you may have suggested.

PadmaVonSamba wrote:
shel wrote: If a someone with transmission "could be" a murder doesn't that make transmission a myth? If a someone with transmission "could be" a selfish sociopath doesn't that make transmission a myth?

You are saying that transmission isn't foolproof.


I'm saying that transmission could be true, but is apparently a myth, given the facts
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby shel » Mon Apr 08, 2013 1:38 am

PadmaVonSamba wrote:
shel wrote:If someone with transmission "could be" a murder doesn't that make transmission a myth? If someone with transmission "could be" a selfish sociopath doesn't that make transmission a myth?


If a buddhist commits a crime, then does that make buddhism the path of criminals?

More relevant to the issue would be to ask if a transmitted dharma heir commits a crime does that make Buddhism a path of criminals. Not in any court of law that I've heard of.

You were not able to establish a cause-and-effect connection between the structure of Zen hierarchy and abuse of authority in other threads. Are you going to be able to do so in this thread?


I don't recall ever trying to do that. I'm not sure what you're asking for exactly. You know what "abuse of authority" means. You recognize that the Zen tradition has a distinct hierarchy of authority. Are you asking for proof of abuse?
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby shel » Mon Apr 08, 2013 2:41 am

Sara H wrote:Referring to Dharma Transmission as a myth in this sense, is like refering to college professors who have PHD's being qualified to teach sudents, who's qualifications can be confirmed by other professors and people with PHD's as a "story that people believe in".


The power of the dharma transmission myth comes from the belief that it's an unbroken lineage traced all the way back to the Buddha himself. There is no equivalent to this in academia. The theoretical equivalent would be something like if Einstein taught, and at some point acknowledged that one of his students was qualified to teach at his level, and then that student did the same, and so on. It would be expected that any of Einsteins successors could perform at least at his level, otherwise they would not be certified. If the line broke down or became degraded at some point but continued anyway the 'transmission' would then become a myth, because decedent teachers would no longer be like Einstein in capability. They would be idealized and their implied (via transmission) capabilities would be an exaggeration.
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