Does Zen have ethics?

Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Jikan » Tue Aug 20, 2013 8:21 am

shel wrote:
Jikan wrote:
shel wrote:I never wrote that Zen does not have ethics, Astus. I clearly wrote that Zen ethics are questionable. They obviously are questionable.


It seems to me that Zen ethics, from what we've seen in this thread, are readily comprehensible (precepts...). It's the actions of some Zen practitioners and institutions that I have certain questions about.

Unless I'm mistaken, precepts in Zen are not considered some kind of immutable laws but intentions. Isn't that right? If that is right then you're merely saying that in Zen there are good intentions. Lying to the Nazi's in order to hide Jews, for a classic example, may demonstrate good intentions despite deceiving others. Many consider deception to be ethically questionable. Minorly or majorly contributing to Japanese imperialism may have ultimately resulted in 20 million Chinese deaths, but intentions may have been good. I think we're all familiar with the proverb that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Personally I favor the proverb that hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of good works.


I don't know if that's so across the board. Precepts are precepts, upaya is upaya. If it falls apart in the way you describe in one or more schools, then those schools have a serious problem on their hands. And that's what I meant before about institutional problems.

It's very difficult to generalize responsibly about a category of traditions & schools as diverse as Ch'an/Zen, so I'm attempting to choose my words carefully.

I think only a fool would fail to recognize that the disastrous situations some contemporary Zen schools in the English-speaking world have put themselves deep deep in for what they are, so please understand that I'm sympathetic to your perspective if not all your conclusions.
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Luke » Tue Aug 20, 2013 9:12 am

Huifeng wrote:There are also modern historical reasons for certain problems, such as the general trends taking place in the Meiji restoration in Japan, but that requires a fair bit of explanation. These issues are often simply not applicable to the modern period of Chan.

Yes, this is what I have begun to see. Chan doesn't seem to have a lot of the strange/negative things which exist in some of the history of Japanese Zen.

However, I realize that there is a lot of individual variation among Zen teachers, so I think that I will go and meet some of the Zen teachers in my area, regardless, just to give them a chance and to try something new.
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Matylda » Thu Aug 22, 2013 10:14 pm

Luke wrote:Chan doesn't seem to have a lot of the strange/negative things which exist in some of the history of Japanese Zen.


Well, is your entire knowledge of Japanese Zen based on Victoria's book etc.? or did you meet in person and directly any Japanese Zen master and you got all those negative impressions?
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Luke » Thu Aug 22, 2013 10:42 pm

Matylda wrote:Well, is your entire knowledge of Japanese Zen based on Victoria's book etc.?

No, but articles based on her book are where I became aware of these kinds of negative things.

No, I haven't met any Zen teachers in person yet. These were some issues I wanted to get out the way before I did. Now that I cleared up these issues, I can meet them with a much more untroubled mind.
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Matylda » Thu Aug 22, 2013 11:29 pm

Luke wrote:
Matylda wrote:Well, is your entire knowledge of Japanese Zen based on Victoria's book etc.?

No, but articles based on her book are where I became aware of these kinds of negative things.

No, I haven't met any Zen teachers in person yet. These were some issues I wanted to get out the way before I did. Now that I cleared up these issues, I can meet them with a much more untroubled mind.


Rather his book :) anyway this book is itself trouble and is badly misleading a reader.. he unfortunately used manipulation in this book, specially with quotations from Japanese zen masters, trying to make impressions according to his own prejudice... too bad, actually.

Articles based on Victoria's book must be even more interesting :D if it is the only source for any serious discussion without firm knowledge of the subject or specially Japanese language for veryfication of Victoria's claims and accusations.. anyway I gave up myself to talk about these issues, since prejudice mostly predominates any serious or honest discussion.

By the way, I guess you will meet an American zen teacher, right? So then there should be no problem at all... I have never heard that they identify themselves with 'Japanese' zen :)
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby shel » Fri Aug 23, 2013 5:18 am

Matylda wrote:.. anyway I gave up myself to talk about these issues...


That's what I love about Zen, it inspires such clear perception and honesty. :cheers:
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Luke » Fri Aug 23, 2013 8:46 am

Matylda wrote:Rather his book :) anyway this book is itself trouble and is badly misleading a reader.. he unfortunately used manipulation in this book, specially with quotations from Japanese zen masters, trying to make impressions according to his own prejudice... too bad, actually.

Articles based on Victoria's book must be even more interesting :D if it is the only source for any serious discussion without firm knowledge of the subject or specially Japanese language for veryfication of Victoria's claims and accusations..

Yes, yes, you raise many good points. While I've read good articles about Tibetan history recently, I now realize that my knowledge of Japan has not evolved much since I was a boy and that I still carry around many of the stereotypes I've had since that time.

Matylda wrote:anyway I gave up myself to talk about these issues, since prejudice mostly predominates any serious or honest discussion.

You are free to do what you like, but please don't lose heart or feel that your words had no effect!

On the contrary, I was greatly moved my what you wrote, and I appreciate your knowledge and honesty. :namaste:

Matylda wrote:By the way, I guess you will meet an American zen teacher, right? So then there should be no problem at all... I have never heard that they identify themselves with 'Japanese' zen :)

The Zen teachers I find will probably be mostly European.

I have no ethnic bias against the Japanese. There are many things which I like about Japanese culture. In fact, I am much more worried about fellow white guys who think they're samurai! (Is there anything worse? lol ) But any serious Buddhist teacher won't be so stupid...
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Luke » Fri Aug 23, 2013 9:50 am

Matylda, you are actually Japanese, right? I apologize if I offended you.

If the Zen forum here were very active and full of Japanese Zen Buddhists, I would have probably chosen my words much more carefully. I was just trying to generate some interesting discussion.
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Matylda » Mon Aug 26, 2013 7:34 pm

Luke wrote:Matylda, you are actually Japanese, right? I apologize if I offended you.

If the Zen forum here were very active and full of Japanese Zen Buddhists, I would have probably chosen my words much more carefully. I was just trying to generate some interesting discussion.


Please, no apology, I just try to understand you. And you were very honest in your concern, and genuine. So normally I never write or answer such matters but reading your posts I realized how truely you were concerned.
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby yan kong » Mon Aug 26, 2013 10:23 pm

Luke, you should read Dharma Master Sheng Yen's commentary on the heart sutra. He makes comments on how in the study of empitness some conclude that there actions do not matter and how this is an error in view.
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Matylda » Tue Aug 27, 2013 7:43 am

yan kong wrote:Luke, you should read Dharma Master Sheng Yen's commentary on the heart sutra. He makes comments on how in the study of empitness some conclude that there actions do not matter and how this is an error in view.


Well, it is not particular view of Shen Yen, but it is common view of mahayana, that onesided emptiness ends up in nihillism.
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby oushi » Tue Aug 27, 2013 8:00 am

yan kong wrote: He makes comments on how in the study of empitness some conclude that there actions do not matter and how this is an error in view.

I am yet to see a person with such views. If an action do not matter, what is "matter" for such a person? Such a view would require abandoning of causality. Moreover, if an action does not matter, there is absolutely no point in doing something, or resisting something. Effort is dropped totally. There is no more accumulation of karma.
Those are just natural consequences of such a view, and it already shows how extraordinary such a person would be.
Thus I think that talking about people that concluded emptiness wrongly is just a scarecrow.
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby yan kong » Tue Aug 27, 2013 8:35 am

One would think this point need not be clarified. But I think transgressions have been made under the guise of "emptiness" where moral gray areas may come into play.
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Matylda » Tue Aug 27, 2013 9:34 am

oushi wrote: Effort is dropped totally. There is no more accumulation of karma. Those are just natural consequences of such a view, and it already shows how extraordinary such a person would be.


Well, it is close to nihillism. According to this buddhas should be inactive, trikaya would be sheer nonsense, and activities of buddhas would be heresy. This what you say is just this onesided view of emptiness.
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby oushi » Tue Aug 27, 2013 9:51 am

Matylda wrote:
oushi wrote: Effort is dropped totally. There is no more accumulation of karma. Those are just natural consequences of such a view, and it already shows how extraordinary such a person would be.


Well, it is close to nihillism. According to this buddhas should be inactive

How did you conclude that? To be totally inactive, you need to resist spontaneous activities and there is no place for such a resistance here. Saying that activity depends only on the will of a person negates the existence of karma. Activities do not come from a "self". If a person accepts that his action does not matter, will the world stop in place? Will he be frozen into position? Of course not. Karma is not driven by wanting, wanting is driven by karma. If there will be no desire for anything coming from self, then who will be the doer of all activities? Certainly, not a self.
Well, it is close to nihillism.

Being effortless and not accumulating karma is close to nihilism? Can you name one Buddhist tradition which does not see those qualities as positive?
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Matylda » Tue Aug 27, 2013 1:58 pm

oushi wrote: How did you conclude that? To be totally inactive, you need to resist spontaneous activities and there is no place for such a resistance here. Saying that activity depends only on the will of a person negates the existence of karma. Activities do not come from a "self". If a person accepts that his action does not matter, will the world stop in place? Will he be frozen into position? Of course not. Karma is not driven by wanting, wanting is driven by karma. If there will be no desire for anything coming from self, then who will be the doer of all activities? Certainly, not a self.
Well, it is close to nihillism.

Being effortless and not accumulating karma is close to nihilism? Can you name one Buddhist tradition which does not see those qualities as positive?


Both will and karma cannot be seperated, neither wanting and karma, if you seperate "karma" from "wanting", then you simply misunderstand the word "karma"... in the first place but what you are asking about I do not see. Actually your first statement rather showed denial of karma. If person dies, does the world die? One is responsible for oneself, and this cannot be exaggerated.

As for the tradition and non-action... one has to be rather careful when without any understanding or realization put such high air in place which is completely inapporpriate.. many masters including certain Sheng Yen just warned against falling into onesided understanding of emptiness since one is immediately an outsider and nihilist... it is same for Japanese masters who strongly opposed such view. As for the great forefathers of the lineage there are some teachings, but those are too high standards for mortals to understand or discuss without realization. Anyway if they - I mean forefathers - directly show buddhanature, then with all its qualities.

If we pick up any texts of great masters of rinzai or soto monasteries they are pretty much concerned with law of karma, and ethics, bodhichitta and so on.
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby oushi » Tue Aug 27, 2013 2:25 pm

If person dies, does the world die?

How did you conclude that? The world doesn't stop where somebody wants it, it doesn't stop if he dies.
One is responsible for oneself, and this cannot be exaggerated.

And this responsibility is karma based, or supernatural intervention into karma? You said that will and karma cannot be separated, and I agree. But do you know what are the consequences of such a statement? Complete causality. If there is complete causality, what do you mean by saying that "one is responsible for oneself"?
As for the tradition and non-action... one has to be rather careful when without any understanding or realization put such high air in place which is completely inapporpriate.. many masters including certain Sheng Yen just warned against falling into onesided understanding of emptiness since one is immediately an outsider and nihilist... it is same for Japanese masters who strongly opposed such view. As for the great forefathers of the lineage there are some teachings, but those are too high standards for mortals to understand or discuss without realization. Anyway if they - I mean forefathers - directly show buddhanature, then with all its qualities.

I am asking about this onesided understanding of emptiness. What are the characteristics of a person grasping emptiness wrongly? Warnings are not the answer. I presented a logical consequences of a view that action does not matter, and it presented unexpected qualities. I think that the "wrong grasp of emptiness" is used too hastily, without giving it a thought. Especially on forum it is used as a form of insult, which is supposed to show misunderstanding of Dharma. But can you defend it?

If we pick up any texts of great masteres of rinzai or soto monasteries they are pretty much concerned with law of karma, and ethics, bodhichitta and so on.

We can take Rinzai himself. Shall we?
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby shel » Tue Aug 27, 2013 4:35 pm

Matylda wrote: many masters including certain Sheng Yen just warned against falling into onesided understanding of emptiness since one is immediately an outsider and nihilist...

Not true at all, but you're welcome to try showing an instance where a Zen master or even a lay practitioner was immediately considered an outsider or nihilist because they did morally questionable actions. You will certainly not be able to find an instance of this for a transmitted and realized Zen master, because that would mean transmission and realization is meaningless.

Outed Zen masters are said to have gotten "stuck in emptiness," or other such euphemisms. As though they had merely stepped dog poop or something and can easily get back on track. Nevermind the victims. For a contemporary example of this see: http://sweepingzen.com/unethical-practices/

As for the great forefathers of the lineage there are some teachings, but those are too high standards for mortals to understand or discuss without realization.

So you are a realized immortal and know these teachings? What are they?

If we pick up any texts of great masters of rinzai or soto monasteries they are pretty much concerned with law of karma, and ethics, bodhichitta and so on.

Just words. We should be concerned with actions, shouldn't we?
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Matylda » Tue Aug 27, 2013 9:55 pm

As for http://sweepingzen.com/unethical-practices/ I really have no idea since it concerns basically XX-XXI century American phenomenon with so called American zen... so you have to figure out yourself. I have no knowledge of all those problems.
However I have seen somehow people who got involvoed in witchhunt and comitted their life to this.. it is fine for them, probably. But my impression was that they were pretty obssessed with mistakes of others. That is very laughable I have to admit.

And as far as you denteaching of those masters who taught about karma, ethics or bodhicitta, if you mean that they were liars, then its ok. Nobody really has to follow them, it is personal decision who follows whom. If you do not know they actions and believe that they were so bad, then there is nothing to do about it.
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Re: Does Zen have ethics?

Postby Matylda » Tue Aug 27, 2013 10:09 pm

One is responsible for oneself completely... there is no any supernatural intervention into karma sorry but I cannot follow even the term, where did you get it from?
I am asking about this onesided understanding of emptiness it is a form of confused delussion about emptiness. When apperently one thinks that understood but in fact is deluding oneself profoundly. And it comes from false realization. Just read SHIZEN BIKU of Dogen zenji and you will see the warning of a great master and following instructions.

As for ancient masters like Rinzai, Tozan etc. well their teachings were very particular, and for particular people. With time there were less and less qualified students so teachings were more and considerably restricted unless student could mature enough to understand. Today nobody is picking up so easily in Japan those teachings outside of strictly cloistered monastery, where still young or old monks can hardly understand it... so if anyone would like to pick up Rinzai without any genuine understanding of those teachings, just may feel free, at that point I have nothing to say.
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