Noble Onefold Path?

Noble Onefold Path?

Postby duckfiasco » Fri May 31, 2013 6:51 pm

Hi, all. I've been fascinated by Zen for a while, because I can tell I often have too-full-cup syndrome :)

One thing I've noticed though, in attending local Zen sanghas and reading Zen books in English, is that the Buddha's teachings, including things as basic as the Noble Eightfold Path, are set aside in favor of "just sitting" as the entire practice. It's like there's a Noble Onefold Path: just sit. In the (many) books I've read, the ratio of quotations by Dogen to those by the Buddha are maybe 10 to 1, if the Buddha is mentioned at all beyond the phrase "Buddha nature". Especially prevalent are Dogen's teachings of zazen being synonymous with enlightenment. No talk of sila or remedies for specific defilements, like the simile of the carpenter replacing a rotten peg. I'm sure this is an oversimplification, but this is definitely the impression I've gotten.

I'm also skeptical that this is the entirety of the work by a man as complex and skilled as Dogen. Yet you wouldn't know it from the places I've gone and the books I've read. Especially alarming is the utter absence of cultivating metta or love. I'll be mighty surprised if Dogen had nothing to say about it, so why does it never come up?

I've wondered if this is more characteristic of the sort of casual morals-is-a-dirty-word, practical/materialistic Buddhism that seems popular in the US and not of Zen practice I might see if I went to a Zen monastery versus a sangha made up entirely of laypeople. I do know that monks don't just sit there in zazen from dawn to dusk; they study, discuss the dharma together, and do a lot of physical work as their practice. But why is this so deemphasized in practically every Zen book I've read in English? If I only read these, I don't think I'd even know about the Four Noble Truths or the Noble Eightfold Path. I wouldn't know about wholesome and unwholesome mental states. I wouldn't know about cultivating love. Even going to Zen centers, the dharma talks are about Dogen, and specifically the parts of his teachings that don't mention karma, reincarnation, or having a solid moral base for practice. I'm sure he taught about these things.

Thank you for any insight. I'm trying to find a way to have a balanced practice, and it's not very easy.
The Perfect Way knows no difficulties
Except that it refuses to make preferences;
Only when freed from hate and love,
It reveals itself fully and without disguise.
- Sengcan (tr. Suzuki)
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Re: Noble Onefold Path?

Postby lobster » Fri May 31, 2013 7:00 pm

treeleaf zendo include metta practice and are an online Zendo
http://www.treeleaf.org/

Zen is direct and focussed. It is a fast path. Consequently it cuts out the fancy irrelevancies . . . :meditate:
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Re: Noble Onefold Path?

Postby Jikan » Fri May 31, 2013 7:35 pm

lobster wrote:treeleaf zendo include metta practice and are an online Zendo
http://www.treeleaf.org/

Zen is direct and focussed. It is a fast path. Consequently it cuts out the fancy irrelevancies . . . :meditate:


:popcorn:
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Re: Noble Onefold Path?

Postby Jikan » Fri May 31, 2013 7:40 pm

duckfiasco wrote:It's like there's a Noble Onefold Path: just sit. In the (many) books I've read, the ratio of quotations by Dogen to those by the Buddha are maybe 10 to 1, if the Buddha is mentioned at all beyond the phrase "Buddha nature". Especially prevalent are Dogen's teachings of zazen being synonymous with enlightenment. No talk of sila or remedies for specific defilements, like the simile of the carpenter replacing a rotten peg. I'm sure this is an oversimplification, but this is definitely the impression I've gotten.


This is a good observation. I've seen this as well, and it doesn't particularly correspond to Ch'an or Zen as it's been taught historically, until very recently.

I'm also skeptical that this is the entirety of the work by a man as complex and skilled as Dogen. Yet you wouldn't know it from the places I've gone and the books I've read. Especially alarming is the utter absence of cultivating metta or love. I'll be mighty surprised if Dogen had nothing to say about it, so why does it never come up?


It's good to be skeptical in this way. I don't think Dogen's teaching is reducible to the "just sit" form of practice you have described. Nor is Dogen representative of all of Zen (merely the Soto school of Japan). Perhaps it's time to make a systematic study of Dogen's writings?

I've wondered if this is more characteristic of the sort of casual morals-is-a-dirty-word, practical/materialistic Buddhism that seems popular in the US and not of Zen practice I might see if I went to a Zen monastery versus a sangha made up entirely of laypeople. I do know that monks don't just sit there in zazen from dawn to dusk; they study, discuss the dharma together, and do a lot of physical work as their practice. But why is this so deemphasized in practically every Zen book I've read in English? If I only read these, I don't think I'd even know about the Four Noble Truths or the Noble Eightfold Path. I wouldn't know about wholesome and unwholesome mental states. I wouldn't know about cultivating love. Even going to Zen centers, the dharma talks are about Dogen, and specifically the parts of his teachings that don't mention karma, reincarnation, or having a solid moral base for practice. I'm sure he taught about these things.


It might be good to put this question directly to the teachers you have been working with, in public or in private, as appropriate. It might be worthwhile to check out other centers for comparative purposes.

:namaste:
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Re: Noble Onefold Path?

Postby Meido » Fri May 31, 2013 9:06 pm

I've never trained under a Soto teacher. For several reasons, Soto Zen lines (or newer orgs like Sanbo Kyodan) are likely a majority in the West. But if you go to a Ch'an, Seon, Thien or other Zen (Rinzai, Obaku) place, of course you'll see different approaches...and not much talk of Dogen, as these traditions naturally have their own eminent teachers and writings.

I would not say that Zen ignores basic teachings like the 8-fold path. Being generally a Mahayana (or, as it defines itself, One Vehicle) approach, it perhaps will tend to assume familiarity with fundamental teachings and stress practice by which - according to Zen - the essential purport of all Buddhist teaching can be realized through "...direct pointing at the mind, seeing [one's true] nature...":

Studying it, one discovers the key to all forms of Buddhism; practicing it, one's life is brought to fulfillment in the attainment of enlightenment. Outwardly it favors discipline over doctrine; inwardly, it brings the Highest Inner Wisdom. This is what the Zen school stands for.
(Myoan Eisai Zenji, 1141-1215)

The One Buddha Vehicle is called the True Great Vehicle, the Original Vehicle, the Supreme Vehicle, the Vehicle of Complete Wisdom. Having given rise in the heart to great and intrepid determination, it means to come to see clearly into the Buddha-Nature, to study fully the nature of all the Dharma Gates of differentiation, and to learn to see them as the palm of one’s hand. Then the important matter of Advanced Practice is to be undertaken; this is called "seizing the claws and fangs of the Dharma cave". [It means] to assist all sentient beings with free unimpeded action, and with unflagging heart to continue to carry on the Bodhisattva practice life after life, world after world, until the last sentient being has been helped to deliverance.
(Torei Enji Zenji,1721-1792)

Another factor is that in some models of Zen training there is actually great emphasis placed on study of sutra and other writings, but at a later or advanced point in one's practice and primarily for the purpose of verifying that one's realization tallies with them (at least, this is the classic Rinzai model). So it would be quite normal in such cases for there to be an initial focus on sitting or other practice methods rather than exposition of Buddhist fundamentals. Again, the assumption originally is that someone would already have a basic grasp of those things.

I think a few good books or classes on Buddhist basics are a great idea for anyone entering into Zen practice. A number of places, including ours here, have study groups and so on to provide that kind of background.

So my best advice is to anyone would be to look around, and also to proactively educate themselves regarding basic Buddhadharma. That will serve one well in any tradition, Zen or otherwise. And, as Jikan suggested, to bring your questions directly to whatever teacher one may consider practicing with.

If you're interested in a description of the overall approach inherited by one line, take a look at the rinzaizen.org site in my signature.

~ Meido
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Re: Noble Onefold Path?

Postby MalaBeads » Fri May 31, 2013 9:46 pm

Meido wrote:I've never trained under a Soto teacher. For several reasons, Soto Zen lines (or newer orgs like Sanbo Kyodan) are likely a majority in the West. But if you go to a Ch'an, Seon, Thien or other Zen (Rinzai, Obaku) place, of course you'll see different approaches...and not much talk of Dogen, as these traditions naturally have their own eminent teachers and writings.

I would not say that Zen ignores basic teachings like the 8-fold path. Being generally a Mahayana (or, as it defines itself, One Vehicle) approach, it perhaps will tend to assume familiarity with fundamental teachings and stress practice by which - according to Zen - the essential purport of all Buddhist teaching can be realized through "...direct pointing at the mind, seeing [one's true] nature...":

Studying it, one discovers the key to all forms of Buddhism; practicing it, one's life is brought to fulfillment in the attainment of enlightenment. Outwardly it favors discipline over doctrine; inwardly, it brings the Highest Inner Wisdom. This is what the Zen school stands for.
(Myoan Eisai Zenji, 1141-1215)

The One Buddha Vehicle is called the True Great Vehicle, the Original Vehicle, the Supreme Vehicle, the Vehicle of Complete Wisdom. Having given rise in the heart to great and intrepid determination, it means to come to see clearly into the Buddha-Nature, to study fully the nature of all the Dharma Gates of differentiation, and to learn to see them as the palm of one’s hand. Then the important matter of Advanced Practice is to be undertaken; this is called "seizing the claws and fangs of the Dharma cave". [It means] to assist all sentient beings with free unimpeded action, and with unflagging heart to continue to carry on the Bodhisattva practice life after life, world after world, until the last sentient being has been helped to deliverance.
(Torei Enji Zenji,1721-1792)

Another factor is that in some models of Zen training there is actually great emphasis placed on study of sutra and other writings, but at a later or advanced point in one's practice and primarily for the purpose of verifying that one's realization tallies with them (at least, this is the classic Rinzai model). So it would be quite normal in such cases for there to be an initial focus on sitting or other practice methods rather than exposition of Buddhist fundamentals. Again, the assumption originally is that someone would already have a basic grasp of those things.

I think a few good books or classes on Buddhist basics are a great idea for anyone entering into Zen practice. A number of places, including ours here, have study groups and so on to provide that kind of background.

So my best advice is to anyone would be to look around, and also to proactively educate themselves regarding basic Buddhadharma. That will serve one well in any tradition, Zen or otherwise. And, as Jikan suggested, to bring your questions directly to whatever teacher one may consider practicing with.

If you're interested in a description of the overall approach inherited by one line, take a look at the rinzaizen.org site in my signature.

~ Meido


Good post. Thank you for the clarity. Especially for placing zen practice in the appropriate context.
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Re: Noble Onefold Path?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sat Jun 01, 2013 1:15 am

I sat at a kind of rebel-Soto Zen place for a few years before moving to Vajrayana and the Sangha i'm at now. Even though I don't think i'll be going back I think the tradition has some real things going for it.

I really think the Zazen itself was hugely valuable for me personally, as it basically forces you to confront you boredom in a way that structured, instruction-based guided meditation doesn't always..I don't think though that there is anything particularly special about it, like anything , it's the right trappings and format for some, and not for others.

But yeah...minimal, minimal, minimal in the extreme in terms of the aesthetic, and the almost militaristic, everyone do the same thing in the same way presentation..it has a real pristine beauty to it. Sit, sit, sit. When you look at Zen historically, you can see how it being the chosen form of Buddhism for the warrior class influenced it..in places it seems almost morally neutral. I don't mean that to sound offensive, the people I knew were just as authentically ethical as other Buddhist i've met, but the tradition itself had a certain vibe to me.

I know that's not representative of Zen on the whole, but I get the impression that alot of Western Zen really eschews traditional learning of Sutra etc...I don't ever remember anything like that at the place I went. Some of the Dharma talks touched on concepts I was familiar with, but only because i'd already read alot of Sutra...there were not framed as a talk on "impermanence" etc...just literally it would be a talk about impermanence, no actual doctrine. I got the impression that some people thought actual learning of those things simply wasn't as important as constant Zazen, Oryoki etc...since "Zen is outside scripture". Again I doubt this is representative of Zen in any real way, as much as it is representative of the approach alot of Westerners take to it.

I think for some it's probably the perfect approach, and it still resonates with a part of me..but I am too easily bored!
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Noble Onefold Path?

Postby greentara » Sat Jun 01, 2013 6:19 am

I find the great Zen masters very inspirational "Not a single one of you people at this meeting is unenlightened. Right now, you're all sitting before me as Buddhas. Each of you received the Buddha-mind from your mothers when you were born, and nothing else. This inherited Buddha-mind is beyond any doubt unborn, with a marvelously bright illuminative wisdom. In the Unborn, all things are perfectly resolved. I can give you proof that they are. While you're facing me hearing me speaking like this, if a crow cawed or a sparrow chirped, or some other sound occurred somewhere behind you, you would have no difficulty knowing it was a crow or a sparrow, or whatever, even without giving a thought to listening to it, because you were listening by means of the Unborn."

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Re: Noble Onefold Path?

Postby WuMing » Sat Jun 01, 2013 1:43 pm

to the original poster:
maybe you want to have a look at http://www.wwzc.org/ for some very sound, yet profound, information on zen. There you find e.g. talks about the eightfold path, http://www.wwzc.org/book/eightfold-path.

A good basis and understanding of Buddhist basics is essential for Zen practice, and true for all other Buddhist practices. And Anzan Hoshin Roshi is doing a good job in providing this.

The Heart of This Moment - Zen Teachings on the Seven Factors of Awakening I also highly recommend.

Jikan is right that Ch'an/Zen was taught historically in a very different way than it is done today. Why and when that shift occured I don't know really, unfortunately. Maybe Astus might know!
今以佛眼觀之佛與眾生同住解脫之床。無此無彼無二平等。
Now, observing with the eye of the Buddha, both the Buddha and ordinary beings are in the same liberated state. There is neither this nor that: there is only non-duality and identity.
- 空海 Kūkai 弘法大師 in Unjigi 吽字義 The Meaning of the Letter Hūṃ
new translation: Kūkai on the Philosophy of Language by Takagi Shingen and Dreitlein Eijō
_______
Our life is very simple, very direct, very beautiful, very vast and very terrifying, but it is not at all convenient.
- Anzan Hoshin Roshi
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Re: Noble Onefold Path?

Postby jadborn » Sat Jun 01, 2013 4:10 pm

duckfiasco wrote:Thank you for any insight. I'm trying to find a way to have a balanced practice, and it's not very easy.


Let me preface this by saying i've never had a teacher, this is just stuff i've gleaned from a more self-directed study. Please correct me if I am wrong, I am still learning.

Anyway, I have not found Zen to be lax in terms of development of sila and accumulation of merit. In some ways, Zen is one of the most rigorous schools of Japanese Buddhism. Most lay practitioners who like to see results would have turned to the pure land schools which don't require a lot of sila development, only single-minded buddha-repetition. Dogen himself taught (alongside the idea that in Zazen one expresses his/her own buddha nature) that to practice buddhism you must have a strong regard for the rules and regulations set out by Gautama (and more importantly, one's own Zen Master). Such as encouraging monks to throw away their old ways of thinking and doing and replacing them with the rules of conduct laid out in the Brahma Net Sutra and several others.

Dogen wrote:The Ten Grave Precepts
Affirm life – Do not kill
Be giving – Do not steal
Honor the body – Do not misuse sexuality
Manifest truth – Do not lie
Proceed clearly – Do not cloud the mind
See the perfection – Do not speak of others errors and faults
Realize self and other as one – Do not elevate the self and blame others
Give generously – Do not be withholding
Actualize harmony – Do not be angry
Experience the intimacy of things – Do not defile the Three Treasures


Although I will admit, since Dogen's time some things have changed, such as a number of monks marrying and running temples as a family business. The Vinaya is also rarely observed, having died out some time ago in Japan.
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Re: Noble Onefold Path?

Postby dyanaprajna2011 » Sat Jun 01, 2013 4:24 pm

Zen has never really been historically static. I had that idea when I first started studying Zen-that zazen had been taught at all times and in the same way. I was really surprised to learn that this was far from the case. Zen has always placed a high emphasis on upaya, and I think this is why sometimes it seems like basic Buddhist ideas take a backseat to zazen, or are even done away with completely. But, basic Buddhist ideas such as the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path are very important to Zen.
"If you want to travel the Way of Buddhas and Zen masters, then expect nothing, seek nothing, and grasp nothing." -Dogen
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Re: Noble Onefold Path?

Postby Astus » Sat Jun 01, 2013 4:46 pm

Everything depends on what kind of books you read. If they are introductory teachings to Zen, it is only expected that they talk a lot about the basic practice, and even that can be a little simplified (e.g. zazen as breath counting). But I don't think this is a problem.

There are books that talk a lot about superficial things, like social philosophy, rituals, arts and such. They are more distracting then useful in terms of understanding Zen, although they can be entertaining nevertheless.

An important thing to understand about Zen in general is that as a Mahayana Buddhist school its primary style is very simple and direct. "See nature, become buddha", that's the motto. Philosophising about complex theories and the finer points of ethics can be beneficial, but it's not what Zen is about. Even the many forms of meditation and levels of attainment are pointless sophistries on the sudden path. But it's a mistake to think that Zen exists separately from the other teachings of Mahayana, rather it accepts and incorporates them all. The main difference between Zen and other schools is that it takes personal insight as the source and method of interpreting the teachings and not a specific scripture or teacher. And that doesn't mean the followers of other schools lack insight. Zen is just not that systematic.

Dogen himself studied the Buddhist canon and quoted from many sources in his writings and teachings. Sure, he taught about zazen, but that's just a small part of the entirety of his works. But only once zazen is comprehended and experienced is one ready to to plunge into the other things.
"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)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“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; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Noble Onefold Path?

Postby Meido » Sat Jun 01, 2013 5:20 pm

I appreciate some of the good points made. In particular, Astus':

Astus wrote:But it's a mistake to think that Zen exists separately from the other teachings of Mahayana, rather it accepts and incorporates them all. The main difference between Zen and other schools is that it takes personal insight as the source and method of interpreting the teachings and not a specific scripture or teacher. And that doesn't mean the followers of other schools lack insight. Zen is just not that systematic.


"Accept and incorporate" are important words. According to Zen's own view of itself as an expression of the One Vehicle, it is not dependent on any one teaching or text because in the accomplishment of the thrust of Zen practice - i.e. the recognition of one's nature, and the full actualization and embodiment of that as realization - the essential point of all teachings is fulfilled. If that is done, then from the Zen standpoint there is no accumulation ungained, no perfection unaccomplished, the four wisdoms are realized, the three bodies are actualized, and so on.

This being the case, certainly no Buddhist teachings or texts are rejected. The ideal is that they're integrated and used freely as appropriate for particular individuals. In fact the same could go for any text if it's useful in a given situation; the I Ching, for example, figures in one koan that affirms this principle.

So depending on where you go, what you read, or what lineage you examine you'll find different approaches which one assumes are intended for particular audiences or situations. But to talk about Zen from the standpoint of the two accumulations and so on - when Zen itself, while not rejecting general Mahayana, does not necessarily feel itself bound by it - can set one up for confusion.

The following from Torei, though a bit triumphalistic perhaps, gives one example of Zen's self-view and approach:

Nowadays there is much talk about the sublime and the profound, or conversely criticism of the Two Vehicles [sravakayana and pratyekabuddhayana], belittling their authority. [Followers of] the partial, the round, the exoteric and the esoteric schools contend with each other, yet they have not even accomplished the confirmation of the Two Vehicles, let alone that of the Bodhisattvayana. And as for the One Vehicle, how could they conceive of it even in their dreams? What use to them are the partial, round, exoteric and esoteric [teachings]?

None of these things apply to our patriarchal school, which surpasses expedient means. When by bitter interviews [sanzen] and painful training at last the Principle is attained, then the Buddhadharma of the exoteric and the esoteric schools appears directly before the eyes.

Looking at the sutras after having smashed the many prison gates and broken free, it seems as if they were one's own teachings.


~ Meido
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Re: Noble Onefold Path?

Postby Arjan Dirkse » Tue Jun 25, 2013 6:24 am

duckfiasco wrote:Hi, all. I've been fascinated by Zen for a while, because I can tell I often have too-full-cup syndrome :)

One thing I've noticed though, in attending local Zen sanghas and reading Zen books in English, is that the Buddha's teachings, including things as basic as the Noble Eightfold Path, are set aside in favor of "just sitting" as the entire practice. It's like there's a Noble Onefold Path: just sit. In the (many) books I've read, the ratio of quotations by Dogen to those by the Buddha are maybe 10 to 1, if the Buddha is mentioned at all beyond the phrase "Buddha nature". Especially prevalent are Dogen's teachings of zazen being synonymous with enlightenment. No talk of sila or remedies for specific defilements, like the simile of the carpenter replacing a rotten peg. I'm sure this is an oversimplification, but this is definitely the impression I've gotten.

I'm also skeptical that this is the entirety of the work by a man as complex and skilled as Dogen. Yet you wouldn't know it from the places I've gone and the books I've read. Especially alarming is the utter absence of cultivating metta or love. I'll be mighty surprised if Dogen had nothing to say about it, so why does it never come up?

I've wondered if this is more characteristic of the sort of casual morals-is-a-dirty-word, practical/materialistic Buddhism that seems popular in the US and not of Zen practice I might see if I went to a Zen monastery versus a sangha made up entirely of laypeople. I do know that monks don't just sit there in zazen from dawn to dusk; they study, discuss the dharma together, and do a lot of physical work as their practice. But why is this so deemphasized in practically every Zen book I've read in English? If I only read these, I don't think I'd even know about the Four Noble Truths or the Noble Eightfold Path. I wouldn't know about wholesome and unwholesome mental states. I wouldn't know about cultivating love. Even going to Zen centers, the dharma talks are about Dogen, and specifically the parts of his teachings that don't mention karma, reincarnation, or having a solid moral base for practice. I'm sure he taught about these things.

Thank you for any insight. I'm trying to find a way to have a balanced practice, and it's not very easy.


The precepts and Noble Eightfold Path were definitely a part of the deal at Throssel Hole in the UK, which is Soto oriented. Reincarnation or karma wasn't mentioned when I was there.

The "just sitting" is more than just sitting. After sitting, the real challenge for me is taking the spirit of meditation or any insight derived from it with me in my daily activities.
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Re: Noble Onefold Path?

Postby lobster » Tue Jun 25, 2013 11:09 am

The "just sitting" is more than just sitting. After sitting, the real challenge for me is taking the spirit of meditation or any insight derived from it with me in my daily activities


Exactly so. Our greatest practice, eventually, is off the cushion :meditate:
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