The real truth behind Zen masters' self-mutilation?

The real truth behind Zen masters' self-mutilation?

Postby Individual » Tue Oct 19, 2010 6:06 am

OK, so part of me is thinking, "Let the past be the past. History is nothing but scholarly sophistry".

But I'm so damned curious!

We hear legends of Zen monks doing horribly painful and unhealthy things to themselves: Bodhidharma cutting off his eyelids, Huike chopped off his hand and tossing it at Bodhidharma... And that koan I heard once about the monk who chopped off a guy's finger for mocking him.

How much actual truth is to this sort of stuff? And to what degree was physical abuse and self-mutilation ever actually a part of Zen Buddhism historically? Is it something constrained to the Linji school?

Aside from my curiousity, I think this is pretty important to clear up because it's pretty easy to imagine where somebody might get this sort of stuff wrong and somehow think a capacity for random self-mutilation is a part of enlightenment.
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Re: The real truth behind Zen masters' self-mutilation?

Postby Astus » Tue Oct 19, 2010 9:17 am

Those are just stories without historical reliability, just like most of the stories about the early Zen masters.

On the other hand, self-mutilation on some level has been part of Chinese Buddhism for a long time. There's a larger study related to this, Burning for the Buddha: Self-Immolation in Chinese Buddhism by James A. Benn. Also, Paul Williams in his "Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations" gives a little insight into this Chinese tradition in the chapter on the Lotus Sutra and its influences, with extra info in the notes. He quotes Benn, "self-immolation was a practice that cut across the whole of the samgha in China. From Chan monks, to scholars, to Pure Land believers, all kinds of monks and nuns found valid reasons for offering their bodies".
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Re: The real truth behind Zen masters' self-mutilation?

Postby Sherab » Tue Oct 19, 2010 10:49 am

Here's my two cents:
I think the intention behind the acts were important.

I remembered reading about an ancient Chan Master cutting of the finger of a young monk, and as a result of that the young monk gained realization. I think the Master saw that the time was ripe to "cross-over" the young monk. The shock of having his finger cut off must have caused conceptual mind of the young monk to stop and allowed the young monk to see his natural "face".

I remembered reading in one of the wisdom sutra (perhaps the 8000 lines?) where a guy called Sunanda (not sure if I remembered the name correctly) who pierced his body to draw blood which he then used to sprinkle over the dusty ground to settle the dust down so that when the teacher (whom he had long to see) to give Dharma talk, the air would be clear. Here, the act was a demonstration of devotion to and conviction in the quality of the teacher. Clearly such acts cannot be done by ordinary persons.

I would agree that it is possible certain people could take such narratives in the wrong way and create unnecessary obstacles for themselves. I remembered reading in the papers years ago of a Thai monk who cut off his penis because it erected when he tried to meditate. I supposed that he thought that by cutting off the penis, he could cut off his clinging.
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Re: The real truth behind Zen masters' self-mutilation?

Postby Huifeng » Tue Oct 19, 2010 11:05 am

Sadaprarudita. It is a past life / jataka of Sakyamuni. And the piercing of the body and drawing blood feature twice in the story, both for the sake of hearing the Dharma.
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Re: The real truth behind Zen masters' self-mutilation?

Postby Individual » Tue Oct 19, 2010 2:29 pm

Is this Middle Way?

If you cannot burn the mind, burning the body won't help.

Sherab wrote:Clearly such acts cannot be done by ordinary persons.

Even for people who are more than ordinary, it seems like it might be stupid.

Thankfully, none of the bodhisattvas in this thread self-immolated, or else they would have been unable to answer my question. :)
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Re: The real truth behind Zen masters' self-mutilation?

Postby Huifeng » Wed Oct 20, 2010 3:51 am

Individual wrote:Is this Middle Way?

If you cannot burn the mind, burning the body won't help.

Sherab wrote:Clearly such acts cannot be done by ordinary persons.

Even for people who are more than ordinary, it seems like it might be stupid.

Thankfully, none of the bodhisattvas in this thread self-immolated, or else they would have been unable to answer my question. :)


Some of us have performed the ritual equivalent, however.
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Re: The real truth behind Zen masters' self-mutilation?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Oct 20, 2010 5:30 am

Historically it was quite common to burn yourself as part of a ritual or when taking vows, either formally or making personal ones yourself in a holy site. Within Chinese Buddhism today one is burned with incense either on the forehead or on the arms three times when taking precepts.

During the Tang Dynasty it was quite popular in China to burn a finger. One Confucian and famous author, Hanyu, was so alarmed at the practice that in a letter to the Emperor he warned that people would start filleting themselves if the state didn't put a stop to it. He was quite upset at the mass religious hysteria that sprung up in the capital Chang'an when a Budda finger bone relic, which he called rotten, was being showcased in the city and the citizenry in mass came to worship it quite emotionally. It sounds like a lot of people were burning their fingers.

There is a verse in the Brahma Net Sutra that states a Bodhisattva should copy the scripture even with his bones and blood if need be. Now, I think the majority of readers would read that as purely figurative, but apparently some people actually did it. My prof was telling me about one fellow who copied out the whole Avatamsaka-sutra (Flower Ornament Sutra) using his own blood for ink.

I spoke to one Taiwanese nun who commented that whenever you look at the incense burn marks on your head, you think back to the day you took your precepts and bring back the enthusiasm and dedication you felt back then.
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Re: The real truth behind Zen masters' self-mutilation?

Postby remm » Sun Nov 21, 2010 12:14 pm

My prof was telling me about one fellow who copied out the whole Avatamsaka-sutra (Flower Ornament Sutra) using his own blood for ink.


I believe that's Master Shou Yen. An acquaintance of mine is his disciple, and was telling me how on several occasions, this Master almost died because of blood loss, but every time he was about to, there was some miraculous intervention by Manjushri Bodhisattva, who came and aided him and saved his life.
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Re: The real truth behind Zen masters' self-mutilation?

Postby Snuppy » Mon Dec 27, 2010 3:23 am

The willingness to even die to get what this is about, is what is required. but to do it, or to actually damage the body as a demonstration of this willingness is nonsense.

If a so called monk, or so called master who does mutilate the body, well in this bunnies eyes they are frauds, deluded little monkeys trying to exist, and their actions prove it.
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Re: The real truth behind Zen masters' self-mutilation?

Postby Huifeng » Mon Dec 27, 2010 10:48 am

Snuppy wrote:The willingness to even die to get what this is about, is what is required. but to do it, or to actually damage the body as a demonstration of this willingness is nonsense.

If a so called monk, or so called master who does mutilate the body, well in this bunnies eyes they are frauds, deluded little monkeys trying to exist, and their actions prove it.


Snuppy,
Do you think that Master Hsu Yun and Master Hsuan Hua were "frauds, deluded little monkeys"?
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Re: The real truth behind Zen masters' self-mutilation?

Postby Snuppy » Mon Dec 27, 2010 12:22 pm

I feel I made myself quite clear on what I think. What do you think?
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Re: The real truth behind Zen masters' self-mutilation?

Postby Huifeng » Mon Dec 27, 2010 1:39 pm

I think that in terms of modern practitioners, these two Venerable Masters are about as genuine as one is ever going to find.

I am also wondering on what grounds one claims that adepts like them are frauds. Are you familiar with them and their teachings at all?
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Re: The real truth behind Zen masters' self-mutilation?

Postby Blue Garuda » Mon Dec 27, 2010 2:37 pm

Snuppy wrote:The willingness to even die to get what this is about, is what is required. but to do it, or to actually damage the body as a demonstration of this willingness is nonsense.

If a so called monk, or so called master who does mutilate the body, well in this bunnies eyes they are frauds, deluded little monkeys trying to exist, and their actions prove it.



Firstly, you assume this is about 'willingness to die'. Secondly you assume that damaging the body is done to prove willingness to die. Unless you are able to show some evidence for that, it is indeed nonsense.

Two assumptions and a non sequitur in your very first post here.

Then we move on to the baseless insults of those who are recorded as having performed such acts. No basis for any of your accusations of fraud, no basis for your claims about their motivation and a post topped off with crude insults.

Finally, the avoidance of providing any substantiation, just redirection by asking another question.

So far, all I have noted from your presence here is trolling on this thread.

Please contribute politely and avoid insulting fellow Buddhists or their lineage masters.
If you are able, some evidence to support your future polite statements would be a useful contribution.

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Re: The real truth behind Zen masters' self-mutilation?

Postby Blue Garuda » Mon Dec 27, 2010 2:49 pm

Self-mutilation and other practices such as Kusali Tsog or Chöd where the body is offered may also be about mutilation of 'the self' and the elimination of attachment.

Rather than assume we know their motivation, however, I would be interested to know if there are any teachings by past masters (who have deliberately harmed the body) which explain their actions. I wonder how it may relate to extreme asceticism, and whether any past master has claimed attainments as a result of it.
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Re: The real truth behind Zen masters' self-mutilation?

Postby tamdrin » Mon Dec 27, 2010 3:23 pm

Yeshe wrote:Self-mutilation and other practices such as Kusali Tsog or Chöd where the body is offered may also be about mutilation of 'the self' and the elimination of attachment.

Rather than assume we know their motivation, however, I would be interested to know if there are any teachings by past masters (who have deliberately harmed the body) which explain their actions. I wonder how it may relate to extreme asceticism, and whether any past master has claimed attainments as a result of it.



No there is a big difference between self mutilation and Chod practice. In Chod practice everything is offered including ones own body to demons and spirits but this is only in visualization and one is never encouraged to actually do it. Obviously (although it is said one on the bhumi's can offer body parts there have been very few cases in history if any). It is never a good idea to harm your body or cut of the body parts as an offering to buddha's or anything like that. In fact one would be filled with unbearable pain and would later regret the actions.. It seems that the Chinese cannon had some questionable Sutras that encouraged the practice of self mutilation or self immolation but I believe these were from questionable Sutras that appeared only in the Chinese Buddhist Cannon and not from India. Anotherwords the Buddha taught the respect of the body as a vehicle of awakening. Especially for practicioners of Tantrayana to harm the body is a root downfall, a samaya breakage.
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Re: The real truth behind Zen masters' self-mutilation?

Postby Blue Garuda » Mon Dec 27, 2010 6:02 pm

tamdrin wrote:
Yeshe wrote:Self-mutilation and other practices such as Kusali Tsog or Chöd where the body is offered may also be about mutilation of 'the self' and the elimination of attachment.

Rather than assume we know their motivation, however, I would be interested to know if there are any teachings by past masters (who have deliberately harmed the body) which explain their actions. I wonder how it may relate to extreme asceticism, and whether any past master has claimed attainments as a result of it.



No there is a big difference between self mutilation and Chod practice. In Chod practice everything is offered including ones own body to demons and spirits but this is only in visualization and one is never encouraged to actually do it. Obviously (although it is said one on the bhumi's can offer body parts there have been very few cases in history if any). It is never a good idea to harm your body or cut of the body parts as an offering to buddha's or anything like that. In fact one would be filled with unbearable pain and would later regret the actions.. It seems that the Chinese cannon had some questionable Sutras that encouraged the practice of self mutilation or self immolation but I believe these were from questionable Sutras that appeared only in the Chinese Buddhist Cannon and not from India. Anotherwords the Buddha taught the respect of the body as a vehicle of awakening. Especially for practicioners of Tantrayana to harm the body is a root downfall, a samaya breakage.


Apologies, clumsy wording. Yes, our physical body should be maintained, without attachment, as a useful means to gain access to Dharma.

I was grouping the actions and practices together in possible intent only, but failed to explain Kusali Tsog or Chod properly, both of which I practice. Without elaborating, once one's 'reality' is that of the HYT Yidam, in Kusali Tsog for example, I would say the cutting away is very much 'real' to that extent. If not regarded as real, why bother, as the purpose is to affect the mind through such powerful actions?

Chopping up the body I deludely perceive as 'real' and 'mine' at this moment (as I use it it type to you) would not, I feel, be more meritorious, and is relatively wasteful, as one may perform the action only once, whereas one may perform Kusali Tsog or Chod many times.

I'm interested that you think self mutilation or self immolation were not recorded in any Indian Buddhist sutras. You may well be right in terms of scripture, I haven't read widely enough to know. I know both practices are widespread in India and have a long history. In the OP, Zen is mentioned as the context, presumably incorporating Chan, which would support the origin of the practice mentioned in the Chinese sources.

I'm not a history scholar, but I wonder if there are other cultural or religious influences at play here, which do not have a Buddhist origin and may have 'crossed over' in the Chinese and Japanese contexts.
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Re: The real truth behind Zen masters' self-mutilation?

Postby Astus » Mon Dec 27, 2010 7:11 pm

I really recommend the book I've already mentioned on this subject: Burning for the Buddha: Self-Immolation in Chinese Buddhism by James A. Benn. It gets into the details very well. By the way, self-mutilation is in authentic Mahayana sutras, not to mention well known Jataka stories.

The Lotus Sutra (ch. 23) says, "If there is anyone who sets forth and wishes to attain highest, complete enlightenment, he should pay homage to the stupas of the Buddha by burning either a finger or a toe. He is superior to those who pay homage by giving their countries and cities, their wives and children, or the mountains, forests, rivers, ponds, and many other rare treasures."
"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)

“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; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: The real truth behind Zen masters' self-mutilation?

Postby Snuppy » Tue Dec 28, 2010 6:43 am

Yeshe wrote:
Snuppy wrote:The willingness to even die to get what this is about, is what is required. but to do it, or to actually damage the body as a demonstration of this willingness is nonsense.

If a so called monk, or so called master who does mutilate the body, well in this bunnies eyes they are frauds, deluded little monkeys trying to exist, and their actions prove it.



Firstly, you assume this is about 'willingness to die'. Secondly you assume that damaging the body is done to prove willingness to die. Unless you are able to show some evidence for that, it is indeed nonsense.

Two assumptions and a non sequitur in your very first post here.

Then we move on to the baseless insults of those who are recorded as having performed such acts. No basis for any of your accusations of fraud, no basis for your claims about their motivation and a post topped off with crude insults.

Finally, the avoidance of providing any substantiation, just redirection by asking another question.

So far, all I have noted from your presence here is trolling on this thread.

Please contribute politely and avoid insulting fellow Buddhists or their lineage masters.
If you are able, some evidence to support your future polite statements would be a useful contribution.

maitri

Yeshe



I mentioned to get to what is true, or allow truth to get to you, one needs to be willing to do anything. Even to die. But reading about self mutilation, I merely meant to harm the body is nonsense. If youve taken that as Snuppy insulting those who have harmed their bodies to get at what is so, then so be it. My comment still stands. It is the willingness to do whatever it takes, but it aint self mutilation. Not the body anyway.

If these masters have practiced hurting the body, then I assure you they would know that, all that - is nonsense. Now I say this, in the context of getting to what is true. And only that..
On whose authority am I speaking. MY own. Does it not make sense that these masters are not privy to what is true. It is plausible that I too am a Master.
If a master mutilates the body, it is not for them as such, pehaps its a ceremony, but it aint them getting at what is true. It is only them suggesting to other that they are not the physical body, nor thought of that body. Ill probably get banned for being - so called disrespectful. This was not my intention.

Love and peace to All.
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Re: The real truth behind Zen masters' self-mutilation?

Postby Blue Garuda » Tue Dec 28, 2010 11:08 am

Snuppy wrote:On whose authority am I speaking. MY own. Does it not make sense that these masters are not privy to what is true. It is plausible that I too am a Master.


No, it is not plausible that you are a Master.

Please desist from repeating insults about Masters about whom you obviously know nothing. You have not been able to substantiate your claims of fraud etc. so please stop.

If you have something to contribute to this discussion about Zen masters, please do so after having read the Terms of Service. Thank you.

I have sent you a PM with more detail.

maitri

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Re: The real truth behind Zen masters' self-mutilation?

Postby Snuppy » Wed Dec 29, 2010 2:25 am

Yeshe wrote:
Snuppy wrote:On whose authority am I speaking. MY own. Does it not make sense that these masters are not privy to what is true. It is plausible that I too am a Master.


No, it is not plausible that you are a Master.

Please desist from repeating insults about Masters about whom you obviously know nothing. You have not been able to substantiate your claims of fraud etc. so please stop.

If you have something to contribute to this discussion about Zen masters, please do so after having read the Terms of Service. Thank you.

I have sent you a PM with more detail.

maitri

Yeshe


(Off topic content deleted)


Some evidence I am a Zen Master. I can talk about that, but I am choosing not to. I am seeing what is stopping you from finding out what is so. Just a suggestion. If someone is saying they are a Zen Master. don't believe them, but at least listen to what they are saying. I wont mention the fact that i am a Master, Ive said it, made it known, so lets dialogue then.

Thankyou for acknowledging that you censored what was stated here, and therefore my earlier post.
YOU obviously read what was stated, which is pleasing.

So me mentioning that if a Master did mutilate themselves, then it is not them doing this in order for them to know what is true, but demonstrating, or creating a situation to show another a reality beyond what they know. I mentioned how a Master could even cut the finger of a disciple, and then at the appropriate time call out his name. To me that is showing the disciple that he is not the body as such, but the awareness of such a body. I feel in this context masters mutilating themselves or another is indeed valid. My earlier comments were in context to a master discovering what is true, and hurting the body I feel would not play a part. What do other people in this forum see of this. If what I have stated here is censored, then I really do not understand how you could do this. Why would you do this.

and apologies for my bad English. Still learning the language.
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