Don't understand Zen

Don't understand Zen

Postby KwanSeum » Fri Feb 25, 2011 9:11 am

My tradition is Seon (Korean Zen). Seon's outlook while incorporating other ideas such as Pure Land basically stems from Hwaeom (Huayan in Chinese) philosophy and in a nutshell sees the whole world as interconnected and synchronised whole with Buddha nature being the foundation. To me Seon seems simple and straightforward whereas Zen seems obscure.

Now please don't get me wrong (no offence intended) because I'm going to caricature Dogen Zenji just to illustrate my point (perhaps a dangerous thing to do) but he, and the tradition he started basically says “sitting in Zazen is enlightenment.”

I was wondering if someone knowledgeable about Japanese Zen could explain how they see enlightenment and Buddha-nature.

Thanks, Kwanseum
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Re: Don't understand Zen

Postby Astus » Fri Feb 25, 2011 10:41 am

Don't know mind is buddha-mind, keeping a don't know mind in zazen is seeing buddha, seeing buddha is enlightenment.
"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: Don't understand Zen

Postby KwanSeum » Fri Feb 25, 2011 2:55 pm

Astus wrote:Don't know mind is buddha-mind, keeping a don't know mind in zazen is seeing buddha, seeing buddha is enlightenment.
Is the that teaching of Dogen Zenji and Japanese Zen?

"Don't know mind" was a phrase used by Master Seung Sahn to describe the state of illuminated alertness which is a hard thing to express in words and must be taken in that context. Seung Sahn is a Korean Zen teacher and I've never heard the phrase "don't know mind" in a Japanese context. Would Dogen Zenji and other Japanese Masters accept that 'only don't know' is Buddha-mind?

Thanks, KwanSeum
'Accepting things as they are' and striving to improve them is living the Dharma while causing or accepting suffering because 'that's the way things are' is Nihilism.
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Re: Don't understand Zen

Postby kirtu » Fri Feb 25, 2011 3:57 pm

KwanSeum wrote:but he, and the tradition he started basically says “sitting in Zazen is enlightenment.”


Dogen did say and teach that but it's not the end of the story. Also Dogen clearly held a form of Huayen so the interpenetration of reality or the deep interdependence permeating all things and bring them into relative existence and so forth is not lost.

Dogen taught directly from his enlightenment experience. This is what he was getting at. Like all Kamakura period Buddhism he wanted the essence of Buddhism and boiled everything down to one practice (this is a bit of a caricature in itself ...). This one practice begins with zazen but is not zazen itself. It is keeping the enlightened mind no matter what conditions arise. That enlightened mind is primarily seen directly through zazen.

As for Dogen's view that just sitting in zazen is enlightenment itself - this is due to his strong belief in the fundamental enlightenment of all beings. The argument is that zazen is already an expression of that enlightenment because if you didn't have that fundamental enlightenment shining through the darkness of ignorance already, you wouldn't have even thought of sitting in zazen, much less actually doing it. So Soto Zen is all about deepening that experience of fundamental enlightenment while at the same time not clinging to it (the stink of Zen) and expressing it naturally (quite a task!).

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Re: Don't understand Zen

Postby Astus » Fri Feb 25, 2011 4:19 pm

It was simply my explanation using a fusion of terminology. The teaching of don't know mind (不知心) is very much Seung Sahn's way of teaching and the expression itself is not a traditional one. Nevertheless, the meaning is the same (going beyond/before thinking). You can read that in The Compass of Zen on Methods of Meditation.

Also here's a quote from a teisho where he uses the term "don't know" (from the story of Bodhidharma meeting the emperor):

So practice is the path itself, rather than the attainment of a so-called goal. There we meet Shitou's mind: not to attain, not to know; returning once again to the “don't know” mind, in which every single koan is understood, seen and presented with the eyes and dance of primal innocence. So here the path is the Tao, is what moment by moment inspires our lives, rather than the goal itself. The path, the koan, shikantaza is not ahead, there; but right here, right now, breathing through our very body. You see, if not like this, if not now, then when and where,?

Thus in the Buddha Tao, in the Buddha way, there is no goal at all; just that dropping off of body and mind. And this happens when the 10,000 dharmas advance to the very bottom of oneself, to the very bottom of the universe. And then that self, (if you wish to call it that), that innermost part of the universe and ourself, comes forward and saves the many beings.
"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: Don't understand Zen

Postby meindzai » Fri Feb 25, 2011 5:03 pm

I spent some time in the Kwan Um school as well as Japanese Zen. I really didn't see much fundamental difference in the teachings themselves, but in the teaching style. "Don't know mind" is not a teaching in itself, it is a teaching device, a handy phrase, a bit of wording borrowed from Sueng Sahn's broken English. Also he used "before thinking mind." Best not to make too much out of it.

-M
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Re: Don't understand Zen

Postby KwanSeum » Fri Feb 25, 2011 5:15 pm

meindzai wrote:I really didn't see much fundamental difference in the teachings themselves, but in the teaching style
You said much difference. What little differences are there?

meindzai wrote:"Don't know mind" is not a teaching in itself, it is a teaching device, a handy phrase, a bit of wording borrowed from Sueng Sahn's broken English. Also he used "before thinking mind." Best not to make too much out of it.
I understand Sueng Shan and the Seon tradition very well. I was hoping someone could help me understand Japanese Zen.

Astus wrote:It was simply my explanation using a fusion of terminology. The teaching of don't know mind (不知心) is very much Seung Sahn's way of teaching and the expression itself is not a traditional one. Nevertheless, the meaning is the same (going beyond/before thinking). You can read that in The Compass of Zen on Methods of Meditation.
But again that is Seon and not Zen which I asked about.
'Accepting things as they are' and striving to improve them is living the Dharma while causing or accepting suffering because 'that's the way things are' is Nihilism.
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Re: Don't understand Zen

Postby White Lotus » Fri Feb 25, 2011 5:22 pm

the darkness we see when practicing zazen is our original face from before our parents were born. it is truly good to read such enlightened descriptions of zazen and dont know mind... thank you, especially to Astus who very often has something important to say.

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Re: Don't understand Zen

Postby KwanSeum » Fri Feb 25, 2011 5:24 pm

kirtu wrote:Dogen did say and teach that but it's not the end of the story. Also Dogen clearly held a form of Huayen so the interpenetration of reality or the deep interdependence permeating all things and bring them into relative existence and so forth is not lost.
So very similar to Seon.

kirtu wrote:This one practice begins with zazen but is not zazen itself. It is keeping the enlightened mind no matter what conditions arise. That enlightened mind is primarily seen directly through zazen.
Yes, but also through other activities - no? Why worry about seated meditation so much? Why exclude the other enlightened activities?

kirtu wrote:As for Dogen's view that just sitting in zazen is enlightenment itself - this is due to his strong belief in the fundamental enlightenment of all beings
Again, but since we are all enlightened already why the focus on Zazen? Although I can follow the logic I can't really see the connection.
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Re: Don't understand Zen

Postby Astus » Fri Feb 25, 2011 5:28 pm

KwanSeum wrote:But again that is Seon and not Zen which I asked about.


If you cared to look it up you'd find that it discusses Soto, Rinzai and Jogye Seon. Seung Sahn spent some time in Japan.
"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: Don't understand Zen

Postby meindzai » Fri Feb 25, 2011 10:07 pm

KwanSeum wrote:
meindzai wrote:I really didn't see much fundamental difference in the teachings themselves, but in the teaching style
You said much difference. What little differences are there?

meindzai wrote:"Don't know mind" is not a teaching in itself, it is a teaching device, a handy phrase, a bit of wording borrowed from Sueng Sahn's broken English. Also he used "before thinking mind." Best not to make too much out of it.
I understand Sueng Shan and the Seon tradition very well. I was hoping someone could help me understand Japanese Zen.

Astus wrote:It was simply my explanation using a fusion of terminology. The teaching of don't know mind (不知心) is very much Seung Sahn's way of teaching and the expression itself is not a traditional one. Nevertheless, the meaning is the same (going beyond/before thinking). You can read that in The Compass of Zen on Methods of Meditation.
But again that is Seon and not Zen which I asked about.


Sorry, I did present that kind of backwards. :thinking:

When I said "best not to make too much out of it," I should have been clearer that I mean the distinction between "don't know mind" and the teachings in the Japanese traditions. There is really not much distinction at all. "Don't know mind" is the same as "when ____ing just ____" or what Daido Roshi (Soto/Rinzai) used to say "doing what you're doing while you're doing it," which is the same as Seung Sahn's "go straight - only don't know" and his (perhaps Nike inspired) "Just do it." These are all just teaching devices and clever phrases.

Dogen is less pithy "You should therefore cease from practice based on intellectual understanding, pursuing words and following after speech, and learn the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate your self." (Fukanzazengi)

It's not like Seung Sahn was unfamiliar with Dogen, BTW, so it's not so much about finding a "difference" perhaps as understanding how Seung Sahn communicated his understanding.

As for comparisons of the schools, my comparison is only based on my own experience, which is of a particular Korean School (Kwan Um) and a particular Zen lineage (A soto/rinzai mix, practiced at Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper new york). These were mainly formal differences and differences in emphasis. They referred to many of the same mahayana Sutras and many of the same koans, though the japanese tradition I practiced in reserved koan practice for people that only had a very well established samadhi. A kind of academic koan study was encouraged though, which could be done by all levels, to get a better understanding of the koans in their historic and cultural context. In Kwan Um I got a very general "who am I?" type koan at my first retreat.

Can go into more detail later. This is probably pretty rugged and I'm not sure if it's what you're looking for.

-M

But these still really boil down to a kind of formal system, and not necessarily a doctrine. Kwan Um also talks about "True-self" sometimes, which I had problems with, though at the same time it did teach the "not-self" doctrine.
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Re: Don't understand Zen

Postby kirtu » Sat Feb 26, 2011 1:28 am

KwanSeum wrote:
kirtu wrote:This one practice begins with zazen but is not zazen itself. It is keeping the enlightened mind no matter what conditions arise. That enlightened mind is primarily seen directly through zazen.
Yes, but also through other activities - no? Why worry about seated meditation so much? Why exclude the other enlightened activities?

kirtu wrote:As for Dogen's view that just sitting in zazen is enlightenment itself - this is due to his strong belief in the fundamental enlightenment of all beings
Again, but since we are all enlightened already why the focus on Zazen? Although I can follow the logic I can't really see the connection.


Your question is quintessential Dogen! This is basically the question that Dogen himself asked of his teachers on Mt. Hiei - if people are fundamentally enlightened already why practice (or why do we need to practice)?

Based on his own experience he was able to answer that practice is the means through which we discover for ourselves for real that we are enlightened. Zazen is the means through which the enlightened mind can see seen directly. Dogen says this in the Fukanzazengi which is his quintessential short essay on how to sit zazen. Dogen also says this in other places but I don't have other sources at hand at the moment as my practice shifted from Zen Buddhism to Tibetan Buddhism in 1998. I would also mention the Bendowa which was written specifically to highlight zazen as the primary method. This was written just after he had returned from China and is early in his teaching career. The link provided is not esp. superior to any of the other various sources for the Bendowa (in fact it has the disadvantage that you have to search for it on that page).

So zazen is the key practice through which on can realize the Buddha mind. But after zazen we take that realization into everything we do and for Dogen this meant everything - interacting with people, eating, sleeping, defecating and urinating, walking, working, sitting (not formal zazen, just sitting down), writing, bowing, sutra study, every moment.

Zazen is fundamental but it's not everything even in Soto Zen.

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Re: Don't understand Zen

Postby Dexing » Sat Feb 26, 2011 5:37 am

meindzai wrote:But these still really boil down to a kind of formal system, and not necessarily a doctrine. Kwan Um also talks about "True-self" sometimes, which I had problems with, though at the same time it did teach the "not-self" doctrine.


Of course, true-self cannot be grasped without not-self.

"True-self" is talked about in many many Mahāyāna sūtras, though- it is not a teaching device unique to the Kwan Um School of Zen or Master Seung Sahn. Like any of his teachings, it has all been done before.

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Re: Don't understand Zen

Postby ground » Sat Feb 26, 2011 7:25 am

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Re: Don't understand Zen

Postby Adamantine » Sat Feb 26, 2011 7:48 am

kirtu wrote:Dogen also says this in other places but I don't have other sources at hand at the moment as my practice shifted from Zen Buddhism to Tibetan Buddhism in 1998.



Hi Kirt, I'm sure this is more fitting for a new thread or simply a PM, but I am interested in your reasons for shifting to Vajrayana from Zen.. I have friends who shifted from Theravadin practice to Vajrayana, but don't hear about many people shifting from Zen to Vajrayana..
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Re: Don't understand Zen

Postby KwanSeum » Sat Feb 26, 2011 8:17 am

TMingyur wrote:http://www.do-not-zzz.com/index2.html


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Re: Don't understand Zen

Postby Astus » Sat Feb 26, 2011 2:05 pm

As for the view of buddha-nature and interdependence, here are some thoughts (mine, not an official point of any organisation).

Dogen emphasises interdependence a lot which is also apparent in his use of terms including his repeated statements on the enlightenment of insentient beings. Also, in his writing on buddha-nature he criticises those who take it as a self (atman) or as a perceiver and knower. He also puts the view of buddha-nature as a seed to the level of ordinary beings (prthagjana).

Korean Zen can be traced back to the works of Yongming and Dahui where buddha-nature is knowing (teaching originally from Heze Shenhui and Guifeng Zongmi). This is quite a different approach compared to Dogen's. To use a common tool here, Dogen is more on the side of emptiness teachings while Jinul on the side of existence. So Dogen disintegrates views to show emptiness (although this is a simplification) while Jinul points to the mind being without views.
"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: Don't understand Zen

Postby tomamundsen » Sun Feb 27, 2011 10:31 pm

Hi KwanSeum,

I believe that the answers to these questions can be found in Bendowa, the first fascicle in Dogen's Shobogenzo. It contains a section that consists of Q/A from various students. I am going to post from an online translation I found (http://www.zenki.com/index.php?lang=en&page=bendo01), but I prefer the Nishijima-Cross version, and advise you to obtain that copy instead (http://www.amazon.com/Master-Dogens-Sho ... 0952300214). Also, as Dogen can be rather cryptic at times, it is nice to hear a modern-day teacher's explanations of his writings. I will cautiously recommend Brad Warner's writings, particularly Sit Down and Shut Up (http://www.amazon.com/Sit-Down-Shut-Up-Commentaries/dp/1577315596). Although he maintains many heterodox views on Buddhism, I feel that he has done the best job to interpret Dogen in modern writing that I am aware of.

KwanSeum wrote:Why worry about seated meditation so much? Why exclude the other enlightened activities?

This one is actually presented as several questions in Bendowa, so this will be lengthy.

Bendowa wrote:Q: I have heard of the superior merits of zazen. But an ordinary person will have doubts and say there are many gates in Buddhism. Why do you urge only zazen?

A: Because it is the right gate to Buddhism - this is my answer to him.

Q: Why is it the only right gate?

A: The great teacher Sakyamuni handed down this unexcelled method of enlightenment. And the Tathagatas of the past, present, and future were similarly enlightened by zazen. They, too, transmitted it as the right gate. The patriarchs in India and China were also enlightened by zazen. For this reason, I now indicate the right gate for human beings and heaven.

Q: Such reasons as correct transmissioby the unexcelled method of the Tathagatas and following in the footsteps of the patriarchs are beyond common sense. To ordinary people, reading the sutra and saying the Nembutsu are the natural means to enlightenment. You just sit cross-legged and do nothing. How is this a means to enlightenment?

A: You look on the meditation of the Buddhas and the supreme law as just sitting and doing nothing. You disparage Mahayana Buddhism. Your delusion is deep; you are like someone in the middle of the ocean crying out for water. Fortunately we are already sitting at ease in the self-joyous meditation of the Buddhas. Isn't this a great boon? What a pity that your true-eye remains shut-that your mind remains drunk. The world of the Buddhas eludes ordinary thinking and consciousness. It cannot be known by disbelief and inferior knowledge. To enter one must have right belief. The disbeliever, even if taught, has trouble grasping it. For example, when the Buddha was preaching at Grdhrakuta, the disbelieves were allowed to go away. To bring out the right belief in your mind you must train and study. If you cannot do this, you should quit for awhile, regretting that you lack the influence of the law from a former beneficial relation. What good are such actions as reading the sutras and saying the Nembutsu. How futile to think that Buddhist merits accrue from merely moving the tongue and raising the voice. If you think this covers Buddhism, you are far from the truth. Your only purpose in reading the sutras should be to learn thoroughly that the Buddha taught the rules of gradual and sudden training and that by practicing his teachings you can obtain enlightenment. You should not read the sutras merely to pretend to wisdom through vain intellections. To strive for the goal of Buddhism by reading many sutras is like pointing the hill to the north and heading south. It is like putting a square peg in a round hole. While you look at words and phrases, the path of your training remains dark. This is as worthless as a doctor who forgets his prescription. Constant repetition of the Nembutsu is also worthless-like a frog in a spring field croaking night and day. Those deluded by fame and fortune, find it especially difficult to abandon the nembutsu. Bound by deep roots to a profit-seeking mind, they existed in ages past, and they exist today. They are to be pitied. Understand only this: if enlightened Zen masters and their earnest disciples correctly transmit the supreme law of the seven Buddhas, its essence emerges, and it can be experienced. Those who merely study the letters of the sutras cannot know this. So put a stop to this doubt and delusion. Follow the teachings of a real master and, by zazen; attain to the self-joyous samadhi of the Buddhas.

Q: Why does Buddhism advocate meditation and enlightenment through cross-legged sitting alone (of the four actions)?

A: I do not analyze the way of training and enlightenment followed by the various Buddhas. If you ask why, I say simply that it is the way used in Buddhism. You should not seek no further. But the patriarchs praised cross-legged sitting, calling it the comfortable way. I know this sitting is the most comfortable of the four actions. It is not only the training of one Buddha or two Buddhas but of all Buddhas and patriarchs.


KwanSeum wrote:Again, but since we are all enlightened already why the focus on Zazen? Although I can follow the logic I can't really see the connection.


Again, this question is directly addressed in Bendowa.

Bendowa wrote:Q: Some people say that to know Buddhism you only have to understand the meaning of "this mind itself is the Buddha"; you do not have to chant the sutras or train the body in Buddhism. Understand only that Buddhism is inherent in your self - this is full enlightenment. There is no need for seeking anything from others. So is there any use going to the trouble of practicing zazen?

A: That is a most grievous error. If what you say is true - even though the sages teach this ("this mind itself is the Buddha") - you cannot understand it. To study Buddhism you have to transcend the viewpoint of self and others. If you become enlightened by knowing that the self itself is the Buddha, Sakyamuni long ago would not have tried so hard to teach the way. This is evident in the high standards of the ancient Zen masters. Long ago there was a monk named Tse-kung Chien-yuan under Zen master Fa-yen. Fa-yen asked him: Tse-kung, how long have you been in this monastery? Tse-kung answered: I have been here three years. Fa-yen: You are younger than me. Why don't you ever ask me about Buddhism? Tse-kung: I will not lie. While studying under Zen master Ch'ing-feng, I understood the serenity of Buddhism. Fa-yen: By what words did you gain this understanding? Tse-kung: I asked Ch'ing-feng, What is the real self of the trainee? He answered, The God of Fire calls for fire. Fa-yen: That's a fine expression. But you probably did not understand it. Tse-kung: The God of Fire belongs to fire. Fire needs fire. It is like saying that the self needs the self. This is how I understood it. Fa-yen: I see clearly that you did not understand. If Buddhism is like that, it would not have continued until now. This disturbed Tse-kung deeply, and he left there. On the way home he thought: Fa-yen is an excellent Zen master and the leader of 500 disciples. He has pointed out my fault. There must be a valuable point in his words. Tse-kung then returned to Fa-yen's monastery. Repenting and giving his salutation, he asked: What is the real self of the trainee? Fa-yen answered: The God of Fire calls for fire. On hearing this, Tse-kung was fully enlightened about Buddhism. Obviously one does not know Buddhism by merely understanding that this self is the Buddha. If this is Buddhism, Fa-yen could not have guided Tse-kung in the manner described above, nor would he have given the advice he did. On first visiting a Zen master, you should ask for the rules of training. Only practice zazen earnestly and avoid cluttering your mind with superficial knowledge. The unexcelled method of Buddhism will then bear fruit.
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Re: Don't understand Zen

Postby Jikan » Mon Feb 28, 2011 1:03 am

Kirt (I think it was Kirt...) brought up the question of Dogen's relationship to Tendai doctrine and practice in the time of the birth of the single-practice schools.

One thing all of them had in common (Soto, Rinzai, Nichiren, Jodo...) was some relationship to the doctrine of hongaku shiso, which is a Japanese expression of Tathagatha garbha theory. It can be understood as "innate enlightenment" in a strong sense. I think some of Dogen's comments as presented in this thread are inflected by hongaku-style thinking. Which is to say that Dogen is an original, but he expressed himself in the patois of his time. More here if you're interested:

http://www.jstor.org/pss/30233979
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Re: Don't understand Zen

Postby Anders » Mon Feb 28, 2011 1:04 pm

KwanSeum wrote:My tradition is Seon (Korean Zen). Seon's outlook while incorporating other ideas such as Pure Land basically stems from Hwaeom (Huayan in Chinese) philosophy and in a nutshell sees the whole world as interconnected and synchronised whole with Buddha nature being the foundation. To me Seon seems simple and straightforward whereas Zen seems obscure.

Now please don't get me wrong (no offence intended) because I'm going to caricature Dogen Zenji just to illustrate my point (perhaps a dangerous thing to do) but he, and the tradition he started basically says “sitting in Zazen is enlightenment.”

I was wondering if someone knowledgeable about Japanese Zen could explain how they see enlightenment and Buddha-nature.

Thanks, Kwanseum


It was Dogen's response to the question of original enlightenment. He himself was troubled by the question of 'why practise if I am already a Buddha?'

Basically, Dogen formulated a new hermeneutic approach to this by linking the concept of original enlightenment to its manifestation as practise. Practise in Dogen's view isn't just a way of realising enlightenment, it manifest, makes actual and is in the final analysis identical to enlightenment.

Perhaps it makes better sense the other way around: Enlighenment is practise - that is to say, even if one admits of an innate realm of 'enlightenment', enlightenment is only ever a meaningful term insofar as it is actualised from moment to moment as practise.
"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

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