Clarifying the Mahayana (Chan) position

Clarifying the Mahayana (Chan) position

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Jun 12, 2009 4:53 am

Greetings,

Originally posted by Dan74 at Dhamma Wheel - http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=1568

Dan74 wrote:I've come across several critiques of Mahayana and specifically Zen (Chan), like the following:

1. It (Mahayana+Zen) postulates Buddha-nature which is contrary to anatta
2. It (Mahayana+Zen) asserts our original enlightenment which makes no sense - why practice then?
3. It (Zen) dismisses sutta study
4. It (Zen) is anti-conceptual and promotes no-thought

I've just come across an article by Charles Muller, a Professor at Tokyo Uni and well-known as a translator and commentator on Korean Buddhism that addresses these points pretty well.

For those who are interested:

http://www.acmuller.net/articles/criticalbuddhismandzen.htm

from the article:
The most important contributions made by the Ch'an movement are, rather than being philosophical, of a practical nature, in that the Ch'an masters showed a special level of sensitivity to the tendency of the human mind to become enmeshed in conceptual positions. For them, the main obstruction to the attainment of enlightenment had nothing to do with either a lack, or excess of knowledge of the doctrine. The problem was understood instead to be that of the propensity of the mind to become conditioned and attached to concepts. Regardless of the extent of one's doctrinal mastery, such expertise, if not handled properly, will soon turn into an impediment. Therefore Ch'an masters have been noted for their caution when discussing the matter of enlightenment, knowing how easy it is for students to get stuck on words.

But since human beings must inevitably discuss things in the course of teaching and learning, concepts cannot but be established. Having been established, it is inevitable that they will be reified, and clung to. Therefore the need of methods to break such attachments. One of the primary remedies used in this work, is to subject such concepts to an analysis that shows them, just like all the objects to which they refer, to be dependently-originated, and therefore, lacking in self-nature. For the scholar, this view of dependent origination is usually noted, and categorized as a seminal aspect of the Buddhist doctrine. For the Buddhist meditator, the purpose is quite different. The mere learning of such a metaphysical theory in itself will be of little help to the meditator in his fundamental task of overcoming his habituated, mistaken perception of reality. Therefore he engages himself in the practice of meditation, where the observation of the dependently-originated nature of things is sustained for long periods of time, is deepened and enhanced, such that it begins to affect his worldview and actions even while not engaged in formal sitting meditation. Buddhist texts tell us that the result of such a sustained contemplation can be, if the power of the contemplation is strong enough, a major rupture of the habituated discursive process, which allows the disclosure of deeper aspects of the consciousness.


_/|\_


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Re: Clarifying the Mahayana (Chan) position

Postby thornbush » Fri Jun 12, 2009 9:52 am

I've come across several critiques of Mahayana and specifically Zen (Chan), like the following:
1. It (Mahayana+Zen) postulates Buddha-nature which is contrary to anatta
2. It (Mahayana+Zen) asserts our original enlightenment which makes no sense - why practice then?

My answer to the above:
One should read and study carefully the Lankavatara, Prajna Paramita and the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutras.
From the Lankavatara Sutra:
http://www.geocities.com/advaitavedant/contratman.htm
Then Mahamati said to the Blessed One:
In the Scriptures mention is made of the Womb of Tathagatahood and it is taught that that which is born of it is by nature bright and pure, originally unspotted and endowed with the thirty-two marks of excellence.
As it is described it is a precious gem but wrapped in a dirty garment soiled by greed, anger, folly and false-imagination.
We are taught that this Buddha-nature immanent in everyone is eternal, unchanging, auspicious.
It is not this which is born of the Womb of Tathagatahood the same as the soul-substance that is taught by the philosophers? The Divine Atman as taught by them is also claimed to be eternal, inscrutable, unchanging, imperishable. It there, or is there not a difference?

The Blessed One replied:
No, Mahamati, my Womb of Tathagatahood is not the same as the Divine Atman as taught by the philosophers. What I teach is Tathagatahod in the sense of Dharmakaya, Ultimate Oneness, Nirvana, emptiness, unbornness, unqualifiedness, devoid of will-effort.
The reason why I teach the doctrine of Tathagatahood is to cause the ignorant and simple-minded to lay aside their fears as they listen to the teaching of egolessness and come to understand the state of non-discrimination and imagelessness.
The religious teaching of the Tathagatas are just like a potter making various vessels by his own skill of hand with the aid of rob, water and thread, out of the one mass of clay, so the Tathagatas by their command of skillful means issuing from Noble Wisdom, by various terms, expressions, and symbols, preach the twofold egolessness in order to remove the last trace of discrimination that is preventing disciples from attaining a self-realisation of Noble Wisdom.
The doctrine of the Tathagata-womb is disclosed in order to awaken philosphers from their clinging to the notion of a Divine Atman as a transcendental personality, so that their minds that have become attached to the imaginary notion of a "soul" as being something self-existing, may be quickly awakened to a state of perfect enlightement.
All such notions as causation, succesion, atoms, primary elements, that make up personality, personal soul, Supreme Spirit, Sovereing God, Creator, are all figments of the imagination and manifestations of mind.
No, Mahamati, the Tathagata’s doctrine of the Womb of Tathagatahood is not the same as the philosopher’s Atman.

Countless Patriarchs of Zen/Ch'an have warned of false attachment and understanding of Emptiness:
http://www.ymba.org/BWF/bwf32.htm#misreading
...because most cultivators are still attached to "duality," and have not reconciled essence and marks, existence and non-existence, noumenon and phenomena. That is why they embrace essence to reject marks, noumenon to reject phenomena, Emptiness to reject Existence, and vice versa -- thus creating disputes, doubts and perplexity.

Little do they suspect that there is mutual identity between noumenon and phenomena -- phenomena are noumenon, noumenon is phenomena.
If we divide them and consider them separately, phenomena are not true phenomena, noumenon is not true noumenon.
This is true also of essence and marks, existence and non-existence and other dualistic dharmas.

For this reason, the Vimalakirti Sutra speaks of the non-dual method to destroy this attachment.
Non-dual means reconciling all things, penetrating into their very nature; it does not mean "one." This is the true realm of "Mind-Only."
Any other doctrine based on the Dharma Doors of Existence or Emptiness is merely an expedient for teaching purposes.

The Sutras state:
To tire of and abandon "conditioned" virtues is the action of demons.
Yet, to be greedy and attached to transcendental, unconditioned virtues is also demonic action.

Ancient sages have also said:
Conditioned dharmas, while illusory, cannot be abandoned if we are to attain the Way.
Although unconditioned dharmas are true, if we become attached to them, our wisdom-nature will not be comprehensive.

These words clearly show that on the path to Enlightenment, unconditioned and conditioned dharmas, noumenon and phenomena are inseparable.

It is also stated in the Treatise on the Middle Way:
Because common sentient beings grasp at external forms, the Sutras destroy this attachment with the truth of Emptiness.
If as soon as they are free of the disease of attachment to Existence they fall into the error of grasping at Emptiness,
there is no medicine that can help them.

Of the two types of attachments, to Existence and to Emptiness, the latter is the more dangerous.
Both the Lankavatara and the Esoteric Adornment Sutras warned:
It is better to be attached to Existence, though the attachment may be as great as Mount Sumeru, than to be attached to Emptiness, though the attachment may be as small mustard seed.[36]

Attachment to Existence leads to mindfulness of cause and effect, wariness of transgressions and fear of breaking the precepts, as well as to such practices as Buddha and Sutra Recitation and performance of good deeds.
Although these actions are bound to forms and not liberated and empty, they are all conducive to merit, virtue and good roots.
On the other hand, if we are attached to Emptiness without having attained True Emptiness,
but refuse to follow forms and cultivate merit and virtue, we will certainly sink into the cycle of Birth and Death.

3. It (Zen) dismisses sutta study
4. It (Zen) is anti-conceptual and promotes no-thought

The Sixth Patriarch of Ch'an foresaw this kind of thinking:
http://www.dharmaweb.org/index.php/Sutr ... structions
"A bigoted believer in Nihilism blasphemes against the Sutras on the ground that literature (i.e., the Buddhist Scriptures) is unnecessary (for the study of Buddhism).
If that were so, then neither would it be right for us to speak, since speech forms the substance of literature.
He would also argue that in the direct method (literally, the straight Path) literature is discarded.
But does he appreciate that the two words 'is discarded' are also literature?
Upon hearing others speak of Sutras, such a man would criticize the speakers as 'addicted to scriptural authority'.
It is bad enough for him to confine this mistaken notion to himself, but in addition, he blasphemes against the Buddhist scriptures.
You men should know that it is a serious offence to speak ill of the Sutras, for the consequence is grave indeed!

"He who believes in the reality of outward objects tries to seek the form (from without) by practicing a certain system of doctrine.
He may furnish spacious lecture-halls for the discussion of Realism or Nihilism, but such a man will not for numerous Kalpas realize the Essence of Mind.

"We should tread the Path according to the teaching of the Law, and not keep our mind in a state of indolence, thereby creating obstacles to the understanding of the Norm.
To preach or to hear the Law without practicing it would give occasion for the arising of heretical views.
Hence, we should tread the Path according to the teaching of the Law, and in the dissemination of the Dharma we should not be influenced by the concept of the reality of objects.
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Re: Clarifying the Mahayana (Chan) position

Postby sraddha » Sat Jun 13, 2009 1:19 am

Huineng, one of the major Patriarchs if Chan/Zen, should answer those criticisms! :smile:

http://www.angelfire.com/realm/bodhisat ... sutra.html

EXCERPTS TAKEN FROM THE GREAT PLATFORM SUTRA (adjectives mine): :smile:

To answer your criticism on Chan/Zen schools not studying scriptures (repeated from thornbush):
"A bigoted believer in Nihilism blasphemes against the Sutras on the ground that literature (i.e., the Buddhist Scriptures) is unnecessary (for the study of Buddhism).

If that were so, then neither would it be right for us to speak, since speech forms the substance of literature. He would also argue that in the direct method (literally, the straight Path) literature is discarded.

But does he appreciate that the two words 'is discarded' are also literature? Upon hearing others recite the Sutras such a man would criticize the speakers as 'addicted to scriptural authority'. It is bad enough for him to confine this mistaken notion to himself, but in addition, he blasphemes against the Buddhist scriptures.
You men should know that it is a serious offence to speak ill of the Sutras, for the consequence is grave indeed!


To ensure the perpetuation of the aim and object of our School in the transmission of the Dharma to your successors, this instruction should be handed down from one generation to another."



I can go into the Nikayas (from the Pali tradition) and give you several things which are deemed "timeless". Then I would argue that the almost nihilistic view of anatta, is in fact, contrary to Buddha Dharma.

The station of the Buddha itself is timeless -- if you read the Nikayas, when Buddha relates the story of previous Buddhas, every Buddha has the SAME story, it's just a different personality. Sure all formations are impermanent -- that doesn't mean it can't be re-formed in another time, another place, in another personality! :smile:

Just like a painting -- sure the paint is impermanent, the picture is impermanent --- BUT I CAN RECREATE IT with different substances -- timeless ideas are recreated --with different substances at different times!

Mahayana explores this timeless or asamskrita Dharmas.

In this sense, the more I study the Nikayas along with the Mahayana, the more I love the Nikayas and Mahayana -- they are absolutely NOT contradictory . Mahayana allows you to wield the sutras, and not be wielded by them -- understand them in different ways -- Mahayana has so many ways of understanding the Dharma, it's refreshing -- it literally gives one Samyak Drishti or WHOLE VIEW -- because Buddha dharma is essentially about understanding in various ways to gain the whole or entire picture!

Here is how Master Huineng, the Zen/Chan school patriarch would answer the anti-Mahayanist criticism regarding Anatta, Anicca:

Therefore, when I say 'not-eternal' it is exactly what Lord Buddha meant for 'eternal'. Again, if all Dharmas are not eternal, then every thing or object would have a nature of its own (i.e., positive essence) to suffer death and birth. In that case, it would mean that the Essence of Mind which is truly eternal does not pervade everywhere. Therefore when I say 'eternal' it is exactly what Lord Buddha meant by 'not-eternal'. "Because ordinary men and heretics believe in 'heretical eternalism' (i.e., they believe in the eternity of soul and of the world), and because sravakas (aspirants to arhatship) mistake the eternity of Nirvana as something not eternal, eight upside-down notions arise. [Ordinary men and heretics mistake the non-eternity, non-happiness, non-egoism and non-purity of mundane existence for eternity, happiness, egoism and purity; while Sravakas mistake the Eternity, Happiness, Egoism and Purity of Nirvana for Non-eternity, Non-happiness, Non-egoism and Non-purity.]


The Supreme Maha Parinirvana Is perfect, permanent, calm, and illuminating.

Ignorant people miscall it death, While heretics hold that it is annihilation.

Those who belong to the Sravaka Vehicle or the Pratyeka Buddha Vehicle Regard it as 'Non-action'. All these are mere intellectual speculations, And form the basis of the sixty-two fallacious views.

Since they are mere fictitious names invented for the occasion They have nothing to do with the Absolute Truth. Only those of super-eminent mind Can understand thoroughly what Nirvana is, and take up the attitude of neither attachment nor indifference towards it. They know that five skandhas And the so-called 'ego' arising from the union of these skandhas, Together with all external objects and forms And the various phenomena of sound and voice Are equally unreal, like a dream or an illusion. They make no discrimination between a sage and an ordinary man. Nor do they have any arbitrary concept on Nirvana. They are above 'affirmation' and 'negation' and they break the barrier of the past, the present, and the future. They use their sense organs, when occasion requires, But the concept of 'using' does not arise.

Platform Sutra


I did not find a more profound rendering of the Four Noble Truths so far than in the exposition of Queen Srimala's Lion's Roar sutra.

To those who criticize the Mahayana, I say, they read the Nikayas, read about Anatta- but do not understand anatta. :anjali:


The correct way to recite the Sutra is without holding any arbitrary belief; Otherwise, it is wrong.

He who recites the Sutra with the tongue and puts its teaching into actual practice with his mind 'turns round' the Sutra. He who recites it without putting it into practice is 'turned round' by the Sutra. Listen to my stanza:
When our mind is under delusion, the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra 'turns us round'.

With an enlightened mind we 'turn round' the Sutra instead. To recite the Sutra for a considerable time without knowing its principal object Indicates that you are a stranger to its meaning.

For Thornbush -- it's from the Platform Sutra! :smile:
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Re: Clarifying the Mahayana (Chan) position

Postby thornbush » Sat Jun 13, 2009 4:47 am

Indeed Sraddha,

The Sixth Patriarch had the foresight to see how much the Dhyana School would suffer from misconceptions and lopsided understanding of Sunyata. It was already there during His time when the capacities of the people who were practicing this Dharma Door were very much better than that of today, what more of today, as we are progressing into the Dharma Ending Age...
As the Sages of the past have said it well...
http://www.ymba.org/BWF/bwf32.htm#misreading
While they expound the Truth of Emptiness, their actions are entirely in the realm of Existence, as exemplified by the following couplet:
Above, their mouths speak about the totally wonderful,
Below, their feet do not part with even a mote of dust.
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Re: Clarifying the Mahayana (Chan) position

Postby sraddha » Sun Jun 14, 2009 3:11 am

thornbush wrote:It was already there during His time when the capacities of the people who were practicing this Dharma Door were very much better than that of today, what more of today, as we are progressing into the Dharma Ending Age...
As the Sages of the past have said it well...
http://www.ymba.org/BWF/bwf32.htm#misreading
While they expound the Truth of Emptiness, their actions are entirely in the realm of Existence, as exemplified by the following couplet:
Above, their mouths speak about the totally wonderful,
Below, their feet do not part with even a mote of dust.


One must add a little Vajrayana to Mahayana, and the Dharma ending age becomes prolonged! :smile:

I sincerely feel, the Vajrayana (5 Dhyani Buddhas) was literally developed by the disciples to prolong the dharma even when the faculties are in severe decline despite getting the remaining "YOU CALL THAT A SKANDHA!?" :tongue: to deal with during the declining age. :smile:
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