Myth in Buddhism

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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby Sara H » Mon Apr 08, 2013 10:49 pm

Huseng wrote:But the purpose has been lost, hasn't it? The one transmitting the Dharma is supposed to be realized and then recognize someone of equal capacity.

This is the same purpose it's had, and continues to serve in that function. It works very well.


The whole narrative

Again, you're referring to it as a "story" or "narrative", even though someone's kensho is independently confirmable by people other than the Master.

is a performance used

Now you're calling it an act. When, again, someone having a kensho or not, is verifiable.

to affirm institutional authority and to perpetuate it.

No, that's not the purpose at all Huseng, the purpose is to give credentials to Dharma teachers, to help prevent the spread of delusion under the name of "teaching the Dharma".
It's the same reason why a doctor has to go to medical school and be licensed in order to practice medicine.
It isn't acceptable for someone to just read some medical text books and start calling themselves a doctor.
Even if they later turn out to be a shitty doctor, we still do require that they have some training and credentials first.

This is quite different from the story of the Buddha's enlightenment which really offers nobody special authority.


And yet all the historic teachings, are dialogs between The Buddha and His disciples, or other great Ancestors, teaching their students.

The records are chock full of Him and other Ancestors correcting people for their misunderstanding from a position of authority.

It was not an egalitarian-free-for-all.

It was Him, teaching others.

There's been authority, in Buddhism, from the very beginning.

Sara
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby shel » Mon Apr 08, 2013 11:10 pm

Sara H wrote:An unrecorded lineage doesn't mean that that there is no lineage in western thought.


Actually it does. A lineage is a traced descent. If an accurate pedigree is not kept then there is no pedigree, or the pedigree is a myth (untrue or unverifiable). In order to have a drawn line you have to draw the line. Lines of connection or causality are made in order to serve specific purposes, Sara H. They are as empty as anything else.

it's more like the old-world apprenticeship systems.

But a carpenter was taught by somebody who was taught by somebody who was taught by somebody, and so on and so forth.


So are the 'carpenters' given transmission today of equivalent 'skill' as the first master (the Buddha)? If not what we seem to have is a myth, right?
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby Sara H » Tue Apr 09, 2013 12:37 am

shel wrote:A lineage is a traced descent. If an accurate pedigree is not kept then there is no pedigree, or the pedigree is a myth (untrue or unverifiable).

The problem is, for the point of this thread Shel, is that the lineage in Zen, is not the source of the qualification of Zen Teachers.

Verifiable kensho, is.

The lineage is just a historic record.

The fact that the record was kept for so long, by oral tradition and chanting, is a source of fascination for Westerners who study Zen.

But being added to the lineage is not the point of Zen, it's not why we train. The point is to find the Buddha Nature and help oneself and others with suffering.


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Last edited by Sara H on Tue Apr 09, 2013 1:09 am, edited 4 times in total.
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IT IS OUR CHOICE
We can stand in our shadow, and wallow in the darkness,
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We can turn around.
It is OUR choice." -Rev. Basil

" ...out of fear, even the good harm one another. " -Rev. Dazui MacPhillamy
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby jeeprs » Tue Apr 09, 2013 12:50 am

Remember the origin of this whole myth: The Buddha holds a flower. Mahakasyapa smiles. If you get it, smile. Otherwise, move on.
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby Sara H » Tue Apr 09, 2013 1:15 am

Just to add to my last Shel,

The reason why we care about the lineage at all in Zen, is simply to honor, and out of remembrance and gratitude to those teachers who came before us, who taught the way.

It's an expression of gratitude.

It's not saying that Transmitted priests are necessarily doing better training than non transmitted Laypeople, (a kensho confirmation in priests is only needed because they may become a teacher)

Nor is it saying that everyone in the ancestral line had the exact same amount of wisdom.

It's just a historic record that we remember to honor those who came before us, and to remind us when times get dark that other people have done this, and so can we.

Sara
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IT IS OUR CHOICE
We can stand in our shadow, and wallow in the darkness,
OR
We can turn around.
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" ...out of fear, even the good harm one another. " -Rev. Dazui MacPhillamy
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Tue Apr 09, 2013 1:25 am

shel wrote: Myths are by nature unverified or unverifiable.

That's okay. They don't have to be.
A myth isn't something that is verified or not verified.
That's not the function of myth.
The function of myth is to point to truth
which is greater than what the myth literally suggests.

This has nothing to do with verifying whether a teacher is qualified or not.
This whole topic has gotten muddled.
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby shel » Tue Apr 09, 2013 2:11 am

Sara H wrote:The reason why we care about the lineage at all in Zen, is simply to honor, and out of remembrance and gratitude to those teachers who came before us, who taught the way.


No one is saying that people don't do this, of course.

Incidentally, in my family we believe that to really honor anyone is to see them as they are, not an idealized or exaggerated version. To celebrate an idealized version of the dead is to truly kill them, because you erase what they actually were and replace them with someone else, someone that they were not.
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby shel » Tue Apr 09, 2013 2:17 am

PadmaVonSamba wrote:The function of myth is to point to truth


Sacred narratives are used to teach, if that's what you mean. Of course anyone within an ideology would believe the truths it teaches.
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Tue Apr 09, 2013 3:29 am

conebeckham wrote:I don't know much about Zen, but I do know there are various "levels" of transmission and/or authorization. I believe that the "transmitter" must be capable of judging the transmittee, in order to discern if the transmittee possesses the virtues of qualities, learning, practice, etc.


Again, this is prescriptive. We could argue forever what should be done and how things should be, but then there's real life and the historical reality.

I keep trying to make this distinction here: prescriptive versus descriptive.


...in the end, these Buddhist traditions are, and must be, Living Traditions, maintained by Humans (and other sentient beings?) who have some capacity to judge. Huseng, even in a meritocracy, someone must judge a potential candidate on their merits, yes?


Yes, they must be living traditions, but authority assigned via some mythological transmission is unnecessary. Ideally in a democratic model the membership would vote on their leadership and carry on like that. A master-disciple relationship need not be connected with institutional authority.


These techniques, as well as Zen's "Transmission Outside the Scriptures," I'd guess, are more relevant, to me, than any scriptural study or "learning," or any practice based entirely on such written words.


This is a prejudice a lot of westerners have, but then you see it with Tibetan folks from Karma Kagyu and Nyingma as well. There is widespread anti-intellectualism amongst said communities. Just the other day a Kagyu monk told me what he thinks of Gelug-pa monks who are all into study, but "don't practice". I've heard similar sentiments around India.

Is it because cultivation of practice is so difficult to gauge, whereas with learning it is quite clear who understands the canon and material and who doesn't? A practitioner who has read their canon is clearly discernible from one who has not and is just relying on word of mouth and intuition.

I don't understand this deep prejudice against written words. Scriptures were penned down so people could read them. Reading is not unlike listening in that you receive and comprehend the ideas of another. Arguably written words are better in some contexts because you can always reread and clarify the meaning of words you don't understand.
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Tue Apr 09, 2013 3:33 am

tingdzin wrote:Also in my opinion, if one really wants to be a thorough Zen practitioner, one has to be able to disregard all the secondary aspects of "transmission" and relate wholly to the main point, letting the political/economic/social chips fall where they may.


If you disregard all the secondary aspects of transmission, as you call them, then what's left? A mythological narrative that might as well be deemed unnecessary.
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby jeeprs » Tue Apr 09, 2013 4:05 am

Huseng wrote:I don't understand this deep prejudice against written words.


It's not prejudice but a matter which is only approachable through a non-verbal understanding. You're a scholar, and so texts are the very substance of the thing, but at the end of the day, the texts only exist to point to a truth about the nature of life. That is why Zen calls it 'direct pointing'.

There will always be this tension between scholastics and mystics. It's all a part of life's rich tapestry. Regardless, you might reflect on that idea that Zen might be 'pointing' at something you're not actually 'seeing'.

A reporter once asked Louis Armstrong, 'Louis, just what is jazz?'

Armstrong gave that famous smile and said 'lady, if you don't know, I can't tell you'.

:smile:
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby Namgyal » Tue Apr 09, 2013 4:30 am

tingdzin wrote:...the profound shift in worldview that accompanied the Protestant Reformation, which made possible great leaps in science in technology but also was responsible for the loss of a lot of depth in religion...

Witches can act with impunity these days because some dolt in a lab coat tells us that they are a 'myth'. Every wise man and holy man revered by mankind over millions of years have supported the same world-view, but Dr. Dolt Phd. and his colleagues know better...
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby jeeprs » Tue Apr 09, 2013 4:33 am

"The devil's best trick is to persuade you that he doesn't exist"....Baudelaire
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Tue Apr 09, 2013 4:40 am

jeeprs wrote:It's not prejudice but a matter which is only approachable through a non-verbal understanding.


Nevertheless, practice commentaries and oral instructions are given via the medium of language and the results thereafter likewise expressed with words.

I still think it is a prejudice that perhaps reveals personal insecurities and inabilities. It takes a very long time, for instance, to understand Nāgārjuna and the metaphysics he was rejecting. It isn't enough to read a translation or get the gist of it from Wikipedia. You need to know about basic abhidharma. All this requires a lot of time and mental energy to understand. In the English language you'll probably need to acquire basic philosophy vocabulary as well. I remember when I first read Garfield's translation and commentary on the MMK I was thinking, "What does ontology mean exactly?" I had no background in serious philosophy at that point, so there was much to learn.

It is so much easier to just reject it all and assume "if I practice as I have been taught then I will understand it that way without having to study so much". The intuitive approach is a lot more subjective and emotional, hence nobody can really argue that you're wrong. Consequently there are many erroneous understandings of what emptiness entails at even a basic level amongst Buddhists -- especially westerners.

However, with discourse and logical analysis it is very clear whether somebody has understood the subject or not, and they can be called out on their wrong interpretations as well. I understand it is quite a daunting task, but nevertheless it is superior to trying to feel your way into the concept of emptiness. Feelings are generally motivated by the passions and hence are unreliable guides. Reason is the superior guide.

This is why Nāgārjuna went to great lengths in writing his treatises. As far as I know he didn't write, "Just practice meditation and you can forgo studying everything I wrote here." Realization of the emptiness of persons AND phenomena requires right view, which is understood through the meaning conveyed in Mahāyāna scriptures and further elucidated in the treatises of Mahāyāna masters.

The early proponents of Mahāyāna wrote extensive treatises based on reason, not emotion and feelings. They wrote them down so that their counterparts, who had insufficient understanding of the profound principles as outlined and needed for the Mahāyāna project, could have proper understanding. There is no need to ridicule and look down upon such an approach as "only one path".

You're a scholar, and so texts are the very substance of the thing, but at the end of the day, the texts only exist to point to a truth about the nature of life. That is why Zen calls it 'direct pointing'.


I think online I might come across as rigid and overly bookish, but I'm not really locked in some ivory tower. I have my practice and have had rather profound mystical experiences, but I generally keep a lid on such things. One's practice should be secret.

As I keep saying, Zen is not the only one talking about a profound truth beyond letters and words. The Madhyamaka thinker Jizang said the same thing, but he was fine with writing enormous amounts of material on establishing right view and eliminating wrong views. He admitted that ultimately the realization of truth is beyond all those words, but nevertheless it was necessary to use those words as a means. The intellectual approach is superior to the intuitive approach for the simple fact that reason is a better guide than emotions and feelings. Reason when properly grasped is less subject to the corrupting influences of the three poisons. Feelings, on the other hand, are generally either the three poisons or some internal process closely tied in with them and past experiences.

There will always be this tension between scholastics and mystics. It's all a part of life's rich tapestry. Regardless, you might reflect on that fact that Zen is 'pointing' at something you're not actually 'seeing'.


Again, I agree that realization of suchness is beyond letters and words, but getting to that point is best done through reasoned analysis. It doesn't require some mythological lineage. Someone might suggest having a realized master is the superior approach, but that's idealistic and prescriptive. In real life it doesn't work like that, especially when you know the history behind all these mythological lineages and how somebody gets to be a Zen Master.
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby jeeprs » Tue Apr 09, 2013 5:02 am

I completed a Master of Buddhist Studies last year at the University of Sydney with a distinction average. Sure I am inclined towards mysticism, it is a milieu with which I feel comfortable and understand. But I don't regard my approach as anti-intellectual, irrational or subjective on that account.

He admitted that ultimately the realization of truth is beyond all those words, but nevertheless it was necessary to use those words as a means..


True. There are sayings like 'the teachings are a stick you used to stir the fire. When the fire is alight, throw the stick in with it'. Recall the parable of the raft. The whole Buddhist teaching is a raft used to cross the river. Zen takes that literally - it is not overly attached to the raft, one would hope. It is antinomian in some respects. That is one of the things I like about it.

Actually I have come around to your point of view to some extent. I do recognize the mythical aspect of the 'Zen transmission' notion, and I see how it can be exploited. But that is not all it is. That is the institution - something in the world, an external reality. The aspect that speaks to me is its inner dimension.

Incidentally there is a splendid essay on The Zen Site called The Zen Teachings of Nagarjuna - you might already know it, but if you haven't, is very germane to that topic of the relationship of Madhymika and Zen.
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby Sara H » Tue Apr 09, 2013 5:37 am

shel wrote:Incidentally, in my family we believe that to really honor anyone is to see them as they are, not an idealized or exaggerated version. To celebrate an idealized version of the dead is to truly kill them, because you erase what they actually were and replace them with someone else, someone that they were not.


It's idealized or exaggerated to say that people who taught the Dharma, did in fact teach the Dharma?
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IT IS OUR CHOICE
We can stand in our shadow, and wallow in the darkness,
OR
We can turn around.
It is OUR choice." -Rev. Basil

" ...out of fear, even the good harm one another. " -Rev. Dazui MacPhillamy
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby Namgyal » Tue Apr 09, 2013 6:11 am

Huseng wrote:...The intuitive approach is a lot more subjective and emotional, hence nobody can really argue that you're wrong. Consequently there are many erroneous understandings...The intellectual approach is superior to the intuitive approach for the simple fact that reason is a better guide than emotions and feelings.

'Theories are like patches, in time they fall off.' [Milarepa]
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Tue Apr 09, 2013 6:24 am

Namgyal wrote:'Theories are like patches, in time they fall off.' [Milarepa]


That doesn't negate the need to study.
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby Sara H » Tue Apr 09, 2013 7:01 am

Huseng wrote:Again, I agree that realization of suchness is beyond letters and words, but getting to that point is best done through reasoned analysis. It doesn't require some mythological lineage. Someone might suggest having a realized master is the superior approach, but that's idealistic and prescriptive. In real life it doesn't work like that, especially when you know the history behind all these mythological lineages and how somebody gets to be a Zen Master.


Huseng, the big, gaping problem with your theory here, is that you don't even need to be able to read, to understand Buddhism.

A farmer who spends all day plowing the field, without doing any "reasoned analysis" at all, is perfectly capable of doing perfect Buddhist practice.

This is not something that intellectual muscle will help you with.

Learning to listen to, and to trust your own intuition is a major point of Buddhism.

You're clinging. You're clinging to intellectualism, saying "it must be true, there is no truth without intellectualism."

Yes there is. And you know that. That's precisely what the Buddhas and Ancestors were trying to say.

All you have to do is stop thinking about it, and truly let it go, and you'll get it.

You're spending your life with your face to a tree trunk, looking at the bark on the trees.

And you're doing this in the name of searching for the Forest. You're in the FOREST. It's all around you and a part of you right this moment.

And intuitively you already know that, and yet you think you don't, and so you're busy measuring the bark of the tree trunk looking for what you, deeply, intuitively already sense.

You too, can "get it" Huseng.

Just stop thinking about it, and it will come to you.

Let it go.

Trust your gut.

You KNOW intuitively, that there IS a "SOMETHING to get".

It's not just malarkey.

And intuitively you know that.

The problem is not trusting other people's intuition.
The problem is trusting your own.

You can trust your own intuition, Huseng.

It is trustworthy.

Sara
Last edited by Sara H on Tue Apr 09, 2013 7:18 am, edited 1 time in total.
"Life is full of suffering. AND Life is full of the Eternal
IT IS OUR CHOICE
We can stand in our shadow, and wallow in the darkness,
OR
We can turn around.
It is OUR choice." -Rev. Basil

" ...out of fear, even the good harm one another. " -Rev. Dazui MacPhillamy
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Re: Myth in Buddhism

Postby Sara H » Tue Apr 09, 2013 7:11 am

You're worried about trusting it perhaps because you're worried about how you can separate emotions, from intuition.

The way you separate them, is to sit still. The emotions will pass if you don't cling to them, or push them away. They will burn off of their own accord, like smoke of incense, without doing anything, in and of yourself. You just have to do the right effort of being willing to make the effort to sit still through them, and not cling to them or push them away.

The intuition will remain.

Sara
"Life is full of suffering. AND Life is full of the Eternal
IT IS OUR CHOICE
We can stand in our shadow, and wallow in the darkness,
OR
We can turn around.
It is OUR choice." -Rev. Basil

" ...out of fear, even the good harm one another. " -Rev. Dazui MacPhillamy
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