Zen the Literary Movement

Re: Zen the Literary Movement

Postby Indrajala » Thu Jun 09, 2011 2:46 pm

Astus wrote:The huatou practice is an obvious combination of literary works and meditation in daily activities.


At least on paper in theory.
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Re: Zen the Literary Movement

Postby Anders » Thu Jun 09, 2011 4:13 pm

This is a weird thread, based both on historical inaccuracy and flawed premise.

Historically, let's get this one out of the way: The communities of the reknowned chan masters meditated. We have many records of it, it's not hard to find and it's not hard to find plenty of examples of this in modern times either.

Hanshan Deqing was one of the most proliferate writers as Chan Buddhists go, but he was also the type who would sit down for two weeks in samadhi without rising.

But most of all, the premise is flawed. Buddhism is prescriptive. If you analyse it descriptively, you aren't likely to get a proper picture of it. Basically, this means Buddhism is defined by its adepts and those who master and apply the teachings, not by the dilettantes or so-so's who only applied the teachings in half measure. We look to the Buddha for our definitions of what Buddhism is, not the scores who might have considered themselves his disciples but had more fun reciting his teachings than they did meditating.

Chan is not a literary movement. It's a meditative movement. We can know this because all its great masters across the ages have said so and testified to the results of it.

It doesn't matter if the majority in their times or in this time have relied on the literary components of Chan moreso than the actual teachings of Chan. These are just corruptions or deviations. They are not normative by virtue of numbers.
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Re: Zen the Literary Movement

Postby LastLegend » Thu Jun 09, 2011 4:42 pm

Ok I will now say all Buddha's teachings are meditative in nature. When a nun or monk does gardening, he/she must maintain right view at all the time. Right view is the view that is opposite of thoughts of greed, anger, and ignorance. So at the same time they hold precepts and vows dearly at any place and time. No conducts (precepts, vows, etc) no Buddhism.
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Re: Zen the Literary Movement

Postby LastLegend » Thu Jun 09, 2011 4:50 pm

Meditation is never dead on form if you really understand Buddhism. Buddha never prescribe any particular form of meditaion. So his teachings are about detachment.
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Re: Zen the Literary Movement

Postby Indrajala » Thu Jun 09, 2011 5:12 pm

Anders Honore wrote:Historically, let's get this one out of the way: The communities of the reknowned chan masters meditated. We have many records of it, it's not hard to find and it's not hard to find plenty of examples of this in modern times either.


There are plenty of records of Chan masters engaging in various activities, but as some scholars have pointed out these are most likely fictional accounts. For example in the citation above Damei Fachang is said to have become a hermit out in the mountains. Sounds like a solid practitioner, but did it really happen?

As John McRae has pointed out, when the old rural Chan groups migrated to the capital Chang'an they drafted an image of themselves and their former masters as being rustic yogis in the mountains. This was a fashionable image that some poets from the aristocracy enjoyed making use of as well. Some would portray themselves as Daoist hermits away from society, when in reality they were educated elite.

I'm not saying nobody in Chan meditates, but just that it is far less about meditation and far more about the common literature and shared culture that comes with lineage. You don't have to be affiliated with Chan or Zen to engage in serious meditation.

Hanshan Deqing was one of the most proliferate writers as Chan Buddhists go, but he was also the type who would sit down for two weeks in samadhi without rising.


Again, how reliable are the records? I'm not denying that Hanshan Deqing probably was an adept, but just that records of holy saints and sages often become distorted, even fabricated. The whole story of Bodhidharma demonstrates this well. In the earliest accounts he was a Persian, but then the later records had him as an Indian.

Even if Hanshan Deqing was a great adept, there is still the fact the majority of people affiliated with Chan in his time were not.



But most of all, the premise is flawed. Buddhism is prescriptive. If you analyse it descriptively, you aren't likely to get a proper picture of it.


I could argue the opposite: if you look at the prescriptive you'll get the internal projected image of a Buddhist tradition and not how things really are. Ideally things should be one way, but in reality they are another. I mean take both into account, but I say recognize that the prescriptive side only goes so far in understanding a tradition.

Basically, this means Buddhism is defined by its adepts and those who master and apply the teachings, not by the dilettantes or so-so's who only applied the teachings in half measure.


Ideally Chan is about meditation, enlightenment in this life and profound encounters between master and disciple, but that's just how things work on paper, not necessarily in reality through the complex web of human interaction over the last number of centuries. That's what I'm saying here.


We look to the Buddha for our definitions of what Buddhism is, not the scores who might have considered themselves his disciples but had more fun reciting his teachings than they did meditating.


I'd say that we look to the Buddha for what Buddadharma is and look to the scores of disciples to see how the religion Buddhism is. I think there is a difference.

Chan is not a literary movement. It's a meditative movement. We can know this because all its great masters across the ages have said so and testified to the results of it.


How do we know they were great masters other than the lineage saying so? The obvious response would be to look at their words rather than the purported accounts of their great awakenings. The reason we know the Buddha was great and profound is not because people said so, but because his teachings are profound. In the case of historical records on great masters we don't always know what exactly they taught.

I still stand by my original assertion. I think Chan is a literary movement. Yes, I agree that we have modern and past adepts within the school meditated and attained awakenings which they utilized to teach others the dharma, but then that doesn't define how the tradition actually was or is. What makes Chan anymore of a meditative movement than Tiantai or Huayan? The majority of the latter two are not adepts, but monks, scholars and laypeople. The majority of those affiliated with Chan are likewise not meditation adepts, but monks, scholars and laypeople. Chan can't be seen as a meditative movement when it really doesn't have anymore people doing meditation than one would find in another tradition.
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Re: Zen the Literary Movement

Postby Kyosan » Thu Jun 09, 2011 6:59 pm

Huseng wrote:.....The reality in Japan is that most Soto Zen priests do not meditate beyond what is required of them.

There are some who do zazen everyday, but they're not exactly common.

From my understanding, there are many Zen monks in Japan who are living alone in temples. And since there is a shortage of Zen monks in Japan, many of these monks are moved to temples maybe only a couple years after ordination. If no one is watching over them they could get slack in their practice if they are not earnest. How do you know that most don't meditate regularly?
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Re: Zen the Literary Movement

Postby Kyosan » Thu Jun 09, 2011 7:09 pm

Astus wrote:I'm sure there were Zen teachers (abbots) without insight into the depths of Buddhism....

That's probably true for Zen and it's probably also true for all other forms of Buddhism.
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Re: Zen the Literary Movement

Postby the salt in the soup » Thu Jun 09, 2011 8:04 pm

Huseng wrote:After spending two years taking some classes on Zen, reading Chan records in the original Chinese and reading Chan / Zen history for many more years I've concluded that Zen really has little to do with meditation and is actually just a literary movement within East Asian Buddhism.

Zen Master Dogen wrote copious amounts of material and evidently was not spending that time in meditation. He was also occupied in his later life building Eihei-ji.

The purported dialogues between Chinese Chan masters and their disciples (they are fictional according to Dr. John McRae) sometimes see someone meditating, but not often. It is more about a on-the-spot dialogue and teaching.

There is a lot of literature in Chan / Zen that draws on earlier generations of sayings, quotes, experiences and literary devices. To learn even a fraction of it takes at least a year or two assuming you already read basic Literary Chinese. Again, that isn't time spent in the meditation hall.

I simply get the sense that historically, as is the case even today, not a lot of people meditate as we would be told by modern day authors like Sawaki Kodo Roshi or various American Zen teachers. Most Zen priests I know in Japan only meditate when they have to (part of basic training). When they study Zen it is usually reading archaic Chinese literature and trying to interpret the meaning of those vague passages.

So, again, Zen has little to do with meditation. It is just a literary movement. It is even a cultural affiliation one can immerse oneself in.


What sort of zen buddhist practice are you doing?
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Re: Zen the Literary Movement

Postby Kyosan » Thu Jun 09, 2011 8:10 pm

There is a misconception that Chan/Zen is about meditation but that is not the case. Some of the techniques are different from other forms of Buddhism and Zen focuses more on meditation than most other forms of Buddhism. But, one could sit in meditation with a deluded mind and that wouldn't help much. Zen is about the internal practice of Buddhism and persons can do that while sitting in meditation or walking, or cutting vegetables or taking a shower.

That really is not so different from other forms of Buddhism. Isn't it obvious that when we read the sutras that they are all about the internal practice? They are about how we perceive the world and how we perceive ourselves. When people start practicing Buddhism they often look at it and analyze it in an intellectual way but that will only bring them so far. When they start taking the teachings to heart and practicing internally, that takes them much further.
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Re: Zen the Literary Movement

Postby the salt in the soup » Thu Jun 09, 2011 8:25 pm

Kyosan wrote:There is a misconception that Chan/Zen is about meditation but that is not the case. Some of the techniques are different from other forms of Buddhism and Zen focuses more on meditation than most other forms of Buddhism. But, one could sit in meditation with a deluded mind and that wouldn't help much. Zen is about the internal practice of Buddhism and persons can do that while sitting in meditation or walking, or cutting vegetables or taking a shower.



If sitting practice werent needed it wouldnt have been emphasized so strongly for more than a thousand years. If you go to a zendo you sit, if you go on the internet you read. One has nothing to do with the other. Reading about zen means nothing and just takes you farther away from the point of the practice.
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Re: Zen the Literary Movement

Postby Anders » Thu Jun 09, 2011 8:48 pm

Huseng wrote:As John McRae has pointed out, when the old rural Chan groups migrated to the capital Chang'an they drafted an image of themselves and their former masters as being rustic yogis in the mountains. This was a fashionable image that some poets from the aristocracy enjoyed making use of as well. Some would portray themselves as Daoist hermits away from society, when in reality they were educated elite.

I'm not saying nobody in Chan meditates, but just that it is far less about meditation and far more about the common literature and shared culture that comes with lineage. You don't have to be affiliated with Chan or Zen to engage in serious meditation.


If you look at McRae he himself provides plenty of examples among these early groups as being meditation specialists. In fact, according to his characterisation of the 4th ancestor and the group around him. that was pretty much what defined them more so than any specific teaching.

There are plenty of records of monastic schedule and practise from notable chan monasteries. Asking 'how reliable is this?' because it incidentally mentions meditation is not a credible criticism. I think you are overdetermining McRae's observations here.

Again, how reliable are the records? I'm not denying that Hanshan Deqing probably was an adept, but just that records of holy saints and sages often become distorted, even fabricated. The whole story of Bodhidharma demonstrates this well. In the earliest accounts he was a Persian, but then the later records had him as an Indian.


Hanshan was ming dynasty and we know this from his own autobiography. This should make it fairly reliable. And it's not so uncommon. Hsu Yun recorded similar such 'sessions' in his autobiography as well.

I could argue the opposite: if you look at the prescriptive you'll get the internal projected image of a Buddhist tradition and not how things really are. Ideally things should be one way, but in reality they are another. I mean take both into account, but I say recognize that the prescriptive side only goes so far in understanding a tradition.


Not if you are a Buddhist. If you are an academic looking to make a anthropological analysis of Chan Buddhism, the descriptive becomes more relevant. If you are a Buddhist, you take your ques from the prescriptive side, because to do otherwise gives you straight up Wrong View of practise.

Ideally Chan is about meditation, enlightenment in this life and profound encounters between master and disciple, but that's just how things work on paper, not necessarily in reality through the complex web of human interaction over the last number of centuries. That's what I'm saying here.


Not in this forum. When you are addressing Buddhists saying 'Chan is a literary tradition', you are misleading practitioners. And it's not as if you are saying something new either. The difference really is that the classical Chan masters simply denounced the spread of such practices as watering down the Dharma and even corrupting it. Whereas you present it as something having an air of legitimacy.

Even as I take your point about Zen as a literary phenomena being widespread, I think you are getting your measurements far off, in terms of how much meditation generally weighs vs literati. Casting doubt on the credibility of sources documenting meditation to then conjure up a new theory of study being the defining feature of chan, which no one really has documented, seems like a halfbaked argument to my mind.

You also have to ask yourself, as McRae encourages, why it is this literature that has survived? The answer is of course, because this literature supports Chan as a meditative tradition. Mixing your prescriptive and descriptive viewpoints ends up with a weird oxymoronic tradition that essentially says:

"Chan is a literary tradition moreso than meditative one."

"Ok. What does its literature talk about."

"Meditation. Largely all the time."

"So Chan is a tradition that likes to read about meditating all the time?"

Whereas the actual Chan analysis is far more simple: "There are those who study the teachings and subsequently put it into practise. And then there are those on the outside looking, who only read about it. These are Chan practitioners in name only."

I still stand by my original assertion. I think Chan is a literary movement. Yes, I agree that we have modern and past adepts within the school meditated and attained awakenings which they utilized to teach others the dharma, but then that doesn't define how the tradition actually was or is.


Yes it does. If we go by numbers as normative for Buddhism, we end up with conclusions like "right mindfulness is being mindful a couple of times a day. This is what the majority does and thus how we should define mindfulness."

What makes Chan anymore of a meditative movement than Tiantai or Huayan? The majority of the latter two are not adepts, but monks, scholars and laypeople. The majority of those affiliated with Chan are likewise not meditation adepts, but monks, scholars and laypeople. Chan can't be seen as a meditative movement when it really doesn't have anymore people doing meditation than one would find in another tradition.


Taintai and Huayan as living traditions have not survived in significant numbers for us to characterise them much as a distinct tradition.
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Re: Zen the Literary Movement

Postby the salt in the soup » Thu Jun 09, 2011 8:57 pm

Huseng wrote:After spending two years taking some classes on Zen, reading Chan records in the original Chinese and reading Chan / Zen history for many more years I've concluded that Zen really has little to do with meditation and is actually just a literary movement within East Asian Buddhism.




If you would have spent all that time practicing instead of reading you would probably feel that zen was about practice :)
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Re: Zen the Literary Movement

Postby Kyosan » Thu Jun 09, 2011 9:21 pm

the salt in the soup wrote:
Kyosan wrote:There is a misconception that Chan/Zen is about meditation but that is not the case. Some of the techniques are different from other forms of Buddhism and Zen focuses more on meditation than most other forms of Buddhism. But, one could sit in meditation with a deluded mind and that wouldn't help much. Zen is about the internal practice of Buddhism and persons can do that while sitting in meditation or walking, or cutting vegetables or taking a shower.


If sitting practice werent needed it wouldnt have been emphasized so strongly for more than a thousand years. If you go to a zendo you sit, if you go on the internet you read. One has nothing to do with the other. Reading about zen means nothing and just takes you farther away from the point of the practice.

I don't mean that sitting practice isn't important. If properly done, it helps persons rid themselves of delusion and be able to concentrate. I'm just saying that the crucial thing is the internal practice. In Zen, sitting mediation is an important part of that.

Sitting and reading are connected in the sense that when doing either one of them we can try our best to practice the dharma. In both cases, we can concentrate on the task we are performing and prevent evil thoughts from arising. I think we are both referring to the same thing. We are both referring to suchness.
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Re: Zen the Literary Movement

Postby Astus » Thu Jun 09, 2011 10:17 pm

The following quotes show how Chan Buddhism was reinvented in 17th century China - Japan's Obaku school comes from this phenomenon - through the strong influence of the literati and based solely on texts. A summary of it is found in the last quote.

"In particular, the literati were deeply immersed in reading and writing Buddhist texts. In their religious reading and writing, the literati displayed a unique spiritual orientation that shaped their understanding of Buddhism. For most of them, reading and writing Buddhist, especially Chan Buddhist, literature was one of the many cultural pastimes in which they dabbled during their leisure time. Because their entry into Buddhism did not begin with faith in the Buddhist belief system, they tended to emphasize the supreme and most sophisticated expressions of philosophical wisdom rather than precepts and devotional activities. Many of them simply dismissed the Buddhist teaching of retribution and reincarnation because for them this coarse reasoning of punishment and reward was obviously designed for the unsophisticated minds. Even in their meditation practice, the literati preferred to use Dahui Zonggao’s method of meditating on the key phrases (huatou), a spiritual exercise transformed from the attentive contemplation on doubts that have been aroused from intensive koan study. This practice has a clear trace in their habit of religious reading because of its origins in textual study. Because their spiritual experience was largely generated and fostered during the process of reading, writing, and discussing, without leaving a carefully constructed textual realm, I tend to call such a religious experience “textual spirituality” to distinguish it from a more devotion-based religious experience. Exploring the characteristics of textual spirituality is important in this study because, through reading and writing, a shared mentality took form in some literati’s communities, in which Chan monks were members and were deeply influenced by such a text-based spiritual orientation."

"In this sense, the textual authority generated from a kind of textual spirituality would invest the literati and the literati-turned-monks with a particularly advantageous position in the Buddhist world, especially in Chan Buddhism, which is largely textually constructed."

"Here, the issue of religious reading looms large because the literati’s understanding of Chan was largely a romantic imagining based on their leisure reading of Chan texts. Some of these Confucian literati, without serious interest in everyday monastic routines, such as liturgical services, observance of precepts, and ordination, envisioned Chan as iconoclastic and antinomian, exactly as the authors of numerous Chan texts wanted their readers to believe. Evidence shows that some members of Wang Yangming’s movement played pivotal roles in nurturing Chan ideals in monastic communities. I tend to call the religious experience generated purely from reading and writing religious texts “textual spirituality” to distinguish it from a more devotion-oriented type of religiosity."

"As I have pointed out, Chan texts served as the source of new interpretations and inventions for Chan monks and the literati. Their religiosity is therefore a type of textual spirituality, as I called it in chapter 2, because it is largely textually based and nourished by activities such as reading and writing. Along with the rise of such textual spirituality was a conscious search for a new hermeneutic strategy to approaching texts. Depending on the hermeneutic strategy that was chosen, the meanings of these texts could be understood in different ways: A metaphorical reading could regard all occurrences recorded in Chan texts as if “real” or, in other words, as “pedagogical devices” to induce enlightenment experiences for students of these texts. Or, as Bernard Faure suggests, Chan texts are basically products of a “writing-act,” which follows the rule of textual production and thus must “be read as [a] self-referential literary work” (Faure’s emphasis). 8 A more literal understanding, however, could lead one to the belief that the events, or textual precedents, created in Chan texts were distinctively “real.” The implication of this reading is that the idealized events are considered performable and realizable.
This literal hermeneutic strategy became the way that Chan masters recreated reality. The fact that Chan Buddhism in the seventeenth century lacked any spiritual innovations comparable to those in early periods shows exactly that Chan Buddhism intended to be loyal to Chan’s past as reflected in Chan texts. The controversies reveal that, in the seventeenth century, Chan monks advocated exactly this literal mode of interpretation, which considered the events recorded in Chan literature to be real and practical. For example, encounter dialogue, a seemingly real occurrence, was imitated and repeated; a strict definition of dharma transmission, based on the principle of face-to-face instruction and authentication by evidence, was put into practice. In short, the Chan monks read Chan texts literally and intended to revive an imagined past in the present."

source: Jiang Wu: Enlightenment in Dispute, p. 53-54; 67; 82; 248
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Re: Zen the Literary Movement

Postby Anders » Thu Jun 09, 2011 11:40 pm

As a point of contrast, Hanshan Deqing, also 17th century, made the point that after having studied all the major gung-an collection, he wasn't really very impressed by most of them and less than half had any practical value in them these days.
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Re: Zen the Literary Movement

Postby Indrajala » Fri Jun 10, 2011 1:55 am

Kyosan wrote:
Huseng wrote:.....The reality in Japan is that most Soto Zen priests do not meditate beyond what is required of them.

There are some who do zazen everyday, but they're not exactly common.

From my understanding, there are many Zen monks in Japan who are living alone in temples. And since there is a shortage of Zen monks in Japan, many of these monks are moved to temples maybe only a couple years after ordination. If no one is watching over them they could get slack in their practice if they are not earnest. How do you know that most don't meditate regularly?
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Most Zen priests in Japan inherit ownership of a temple from their father.

Priesthood is largely a hereditary profession in Japan.
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Re: Zen the Literary Movement

Postby Indrajala » Fri Jun 10, 2011 1:56 am

the salt in the soup wrote:What sort of zen buddhist practice are you doing?


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Re: Zen the Literary Movement

Postby Indrajala » Fri Jun 10, 2011 1:58 am

the salt in the soup wrote:
Huseng wrote:After spending two years taking some classes on Zen, reading Chan records in the original Chinese and reading Chan / Zen history for many more years I've concluded that Zen really has little to do with meditation and is actually just a literary movement within East Asian Buddhism.




If you would have spent all that time practicing instead of reading you would probably feel that zen was about practice :)


Again prescriptive versus descriptive.
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Re: Zen the Literary Movement

Postby Indrajala » Fri Jun 10, 2011 2:25 am

Anders Honore wrote:If you look at McRae he himself provides plenty of examples among these early groups as being meditation specialists. In fact, according to his characterisation of the 4th ancestor and the group around him. that was pretty much what defined them more so than any specific teaching.


There are meditation specialists in a lot of monasteries. It doesn't mean everyone is seriously engaged in meditation.

Not if you are a Buddhist. If you are an academic looking to make a anthropological analysis of Chan Buddhism, the descriptive becomes more relevant. If you are a Buddhist, you take your ques from the prescriptive side, because to do otherwise gives you straight up Wrong View of practise.


I don't see any problems with seeing both sides of the coin.

On one hand, there is the way things are supposed to be and the ideals we strive for.

On the other hand, there is the reality of any given tradition and the actual circumstances both historical and present. I think if you don't examine the descriptive side of things, you'll inevitably be shocked and upset as you discover the reality of any Buddhist tradition. Not all your fellow Buddhists are taking the Eightfold Noble Path so seriously. Not everyone hailed as a great teacher really is. Not all "Grand Masters" are so grand.

Moreover, outside of solitary practice if you insist on the prescriptive in a group setting you'll inevitably step on a lot of toes because in many instances social conventions override prescriptions given in sutra, vinaya and lineage canon.


Not in this forum. When you are addressing Buddhists saying 'Chan is a literary tradition', you are misleading practitioners. And it's not as if you are saying something new either. The difference really is that the classical Chan masters simply denounced the spread of such practices as watering down the Dharma and even corrupting it. Whereas you present it as something having an air of legitimacy.


It has an air of legitimacy because this is how things really are. Zen and Chan practitioners spend a lot of time studying and reading literature, and not meditating. Nobody would get far pointing out to them that they're watering down the dharma and corrupting it. An outsider saying such things would be ignored.

Even as I take your point about Zen as a literary phenomena being widespread, I think you are getting your measurements far off, in terms of how much meditation generally weighs vs literati. Casting doubt on the credibility of sources documenting meditation to then conjure up a new theory of study being the defining feature of chan, which no one really has documented, seems like a halfbaked argument to my mind.


There are fictional accounts of hermits meditating, yes. Where there is smoke, there is fire. That doesn't mean the Chan phenomenon was made up by majority of hermit yogis.


"So Chan is a tradition that likes to read about meditating all the time?"


This is indeed what I have concluded to be the case. It is not what Chan is supposed to be, but nevertheless it is.



Yes it does. If we go by numbers as normative for Buddhism, we end up with conclusions like "right mindfulness is being mindful a couple of times a day. This is what the majority does and thus how we should define mindfulness."


That's not what I'm asserting. I'm advocating recognizing how things really are while acknowledging the way they are supposed to be.


Taintai and Huayan as living traditions have not survived in significant numbers for us to characterise them much as a distinct tradition.


They've survived in Japan. Tendai in particular. Their lineages go all the way back to the Tang Dynasty.

In any case, Chan is no more a meditation movement than Pure Land, Tiantai, Huayan, Theravada or Vajrayana. There will always be the few devoted yogis on the peripheral who engage in serious meditation in any tradition. Chan doesn't have a monopoly on meditation. The history of it reveals that the tradition was generally collectively engaged in activities other than meditation.
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Re: Zen the Literary Movement

Postby LastLegend » Fri Jun 10, 2011 3:18 am

I recognize such as Hui Neng as legitimate Chan.
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NAMO AMITUOFO (CHINESE)
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Joined: Sat Mar 19, 2011 3:46 pm
Location: Washington DC

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