From Theravada to Soto Zen

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From Theravada to Soto Zen

Postby mettafuture » Wed Jan 20, 2010 7:40 am

After 3 years of study and practice, I left the Theravada. I didn't want to deal with the conservative ethics, or the overly complex web of lists anymore.

After leaving the Theravada, I continued to search for external ideas and philosophies; I didn't want to go through life with only my own theories to refer to.

I wanted a lifestyle that felt more natural, and was closer to the rhythms of nature. This goal lead me to Advaita Vedanta and Taoism, two pantheistic / non-dualistic philosophies from the Eastern world.

I eventually settled on Taoism, and, for awhile, things went well. But, unfortunately, I soon realized that Taoism wasn't the philosophy that would be able to take me where I needed to go. So, I sat down, did some heavy thinking and research, and eventually stumbled into Zen Buddhism.

When I was a Theravada Buddhist, I used to completely blow off any variety of Mahayana Buddhism because I thought Mahayana Buddhisms were just cheap expansion packs of the original Theravada. This is not the case with Zen. In my opinion, which is only an opinion, Zen Buddhism is actually less complicated than Theravada.

With Soto Zen, especially, you only need the dharma (which can be accessed through talks with a teacher, or through the important texts like the prajnaparamita, dogen's shobogenzo, etc), zazen practice, 16 bodisattva precepts, and your own personal experiences - the source of experiential realization.

My attitude toward Mahayana Buddhism has definitely changed. I no longer see a problem with looking through the sutras for tidbits of wisdom. And regarding the Theravada, I haven't completely abandoned my roots there. I still have a soft spot for the Dhammapada, and the Metta and Satipatthana Suttas.

:buddha1:
Last edited by mettafuture on Wed Jan 20, 2010 9:27 pm, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: From Theravada to Soto Zen

Postby Anders » Wed Jan 20, 2010 2:31 pm

mettafuture.

Can I just that imo that is not far short of an ideal baggage to come to Zen and Mahayana with. Having that kind of backgrounding will make it a lot easier to understand what it is the Mahayana sutras and Zen teachers talk about.
"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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Re: From Theravada to Soto Zen

Postby mettafuture » Wed Jan 20, 2010 8:54 pm

Anders Honore wrote:mettafuture.

Can I just that imo that is not far short of an ideal baggage to come to Zen and Mahayana with. Having that kind of backgrounding will make it a lot easier to understand what it is the Mahayana sutras and Zen teachers talk about.

I don't have any regrets. I'm thankful for my time with the Theravada. :) I'm just happier with Zen.
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Re: From Theravada to Soto Zen

Postby meindzai » Wed Mar 24, 2010 5:42 pm

I find it interesting that you settled on Soto, because I always found Soto, at least in it's current form, to be less palatable for me as I've studied Theravada. I of course am not talking about Dogen or anything, but the more modern state of affairs.

And of course if you have been doing vipassana it's not much of a stretch to do Shikantaza.

Have you had any struggles at all in terms of basing your practice off of things that, according to Theravada, the Buddha didn't teach (like Buddha nature)? This is my challenge whenever I think of going back to my "roots" (I practiced Zen for quite awhile before Theravada).

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Re: From Theravada to Soto Zen

Postby Indrajala » Wed Mar 24, 2010 5:56 pm

meindzai wrote:I find it interesting that you settled on Soto, because I always found Soto, at least in it's current form, to be less palatable for me as I've studied Theravada. I of course am not talking about Dogen or anything, but the more modern state of affairs.


I could rant and rave about this for awhile.

The lifestyle and practise of Dogen is nothing like what is now called "Soto Zen".

The selling point right now is shikantaza, but in reality Dogen's lifestyle, beliefs and practises were quite orthodox in the Buddhist sense and there was heaps more to Soto even in the early days than shikantaza. Dogen also believed in the existence of preta (claimed to have seen them), accepted the world the eyes cannot see (in his words) and lived a very stoic lifestyle (celibate, sober, vegetarian and darn near broke).

Dogen himself in my estimation would have got along quite well with Theravada bhikku had he the chance. :smile:
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Re: From Theravada to Soto Zen

Postby meindzai » Wed Mar 24, 2010 6:18 pm

Huseng wrote:Dogen himself in my estimation would have got along quite well with Theravada bhikku had he the chance. :smile:


Even Thanissaro Bhikkhu has admitted to appreciating Dogen.

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Re: From Theravada to Soto Zen

Postby shel » Wed Mar 24, 2010 6:43 pm

Hi Huseng,

You are suggesting that there are no longer any celibate, sober, veg and renounciate Soto Zen monks? This could well be the case, I'm just asking if you know this to be true.

Also, who'd be fool enough to not accept the world that they cannot see. That must include approximately 99.999999999999999... % of the universe. :tongue:

Huseng wrote:The lifestyle and practise of Dogen is nothing like what is now called "Soto Zen".

The selling point right now is shikantaza, but in reality Dogen's lifestyle, beliefs and practises were quite orthodox in the Buddhist sense and there was heaps more to Soto even in the early days than shikantaza. Dogen also believed in the existence of preta (claimed to have seen them), accepted the world the eyes cannot see (in his words) and lived a very stoic lifestyle (celibate, sober, vegetarian and darn near broke).
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Re: From Theravada to Soto Zen

Postby meindzai » Wed Mar 24, 2010 8:10 pm

shel wrote:Hi Huseng,

You are suggesting that there are no longer any celibate, sober, veg and renounciate Soto Zen monks? This could well be the case, I'm just asking if you know this to be true.



There probably are, but there are also many married, drinking, meat eating ones.

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Re: From Theravada to Soto Zen

Postby shel » Wed Mar 24, 2010 9:34 pm

meindzai wrote:
shel wrote:Hi Huseng,

You are suggesting that there are no longer any celibate, sober, veg and renounciate Soto Zen monks? This could well be the case, I'm just asking if you know this to be true.



There probably are, but there are also many married, drinking, meat eating ones.

-M

Hi Meindzai,

According to Rev. Nonin Chowaney who chairs the Membership Committee of the American Zen Teachers Association and serves on the Priest Training Committee of the Soto Zen Teachers Association...

Rev. Nonin Chowaney wrote:In contemporary Soto Zen Buddhism in both the West and Japan, the terms priest and monk are both used, but not consistently. After priest ordination (shukke tokudo), a person is a priest, a novice priest, for it takes a long time to become a full priest. But that person does not necessarily leave home. Some priests are single and can choose to remain celibate or not; it's their choice unless their teachers have specific rules. Some priests are either married (or eventually will be) or are involved in relationships. In some lineages and with some teachers, this is okay. In some lineages and with some teachers, It is not. This is true in both the US and in Japan.


So yeah, no restrictions for even priests today. I also doubt there are any serious restrictions against moderate alcohol consumption or including meat in the diet. I guess it depends, as Rev. Nonin states, on the specific rules that each teacher can abide.

In my particular neck of the woods, there are no conjugal restrictions observed for priests within the lines of Shunryu Suzuki, Gudo Wafu Nishijima, and Taizan Maezumi.
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Re: From Theravada to Soto Zen

Postby Indrajala » Thu Mar 25, 2010 4:46 am

I've never met a Soto Zen priest who was celibate, refrained from alcohol and meat, and refrained from wearing lay clothes. I've never met one who said he or she was just celibate either.

When you're "on duty", so to speak, which means training at a temple like Eiheiji or Soji-ji, then you're supposed to eat mostly vegetarian food (the curry purportedly has meat in it), not have sex and always wear your uniform robes. However, when you're outside the gates you're free to do whatever you want.

It is a lot like taking karate lessons: wear your uniform in the dojo and behave properly, but outside the dojo you're free to do whatever you want.

Generally speaking, the present Soto Zen precepts don't include a prohibition on consuming alcohol (you're not supposed to buy or sell it, though this is openly discarded) or a prohibition on sexual activities unless the priest has taken additional precepts like the Brahma Net Sutra precepts which cover alcohol, sex, meat and a number of other things.

I actually asked one of my colleagues what vows he had taken and he couldn't remember.

"It was many years ago when I was a kid..."

The thing to keep in mind is this: most priests in Soto are set to inherit a temple from their father, so they have to become priests whether they have any interest in it or not. Priestcraft is a trade you inherit from your father and the temple is usually family property.
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Re: From Theravada to Soto Zen

Postby shel » Thu Mar 25, 2010 6:35 pm

Huseng wrote:I actually asked one of my colleagues what vows he had taken and he couldn't remember.

"It was many years ago when I was a kid..."

In American Soto Zen it is ritual to chant the Four Vows daily, after zazen. It appears to be commonly taught that reciting the vows is meant to express the intent to take them seriously. Some lines, like Brad Warner's, don't chant them at all after zazen. I tend to respect this more, as I think it disparages the Buddhadharmma to represent yourself as a serious Mahayana practitioner, make daily bodhisattva vows, and not take them very seriously.

A vow is a solemn promise and is essentially asking for other to credit you with the quality of what it is that you promise. It affords the promiser benefits.
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Re: From Theravada to Soto Zen

Postby Huifeng » Fri Mar 26, 2010 3:12 am

shel wrote:
Huseng wrote:I actually asked one of my colleagues what vows he had taken and he couldn't remember.

"It was many years ago when I was a kid..."

In American Soto Zen it is ritual to chant the Four Vows daily, after zazen. It appears to be commonly taught that reciting the vows is meant to express the intent to take them seriously. Some lines, like Brad Warner's, don't chant them at all after zazen. I tend to respect this more, as I think it disparages the Buddhadharmma to represent yourself as a serious Mahayana practitioner, make daily bodhisattva vows, and not take them very seriously.

A vow is a solemn promise and is essentially asking for other to credit you with the quality of what it is that you promise. It affords the promiser benefits.


As I understand it, although the "four vows" holds some of the basic ideas of the bodhisattva precepts, the actual 16 precepts are a different set altogether.

I think that Huseng is referring to the 16 (or larger set), and not the four.
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Re: From Theravada to Soto Zen

Postby shel » Fri Mar 26, 2010 5:04 am

Thanks for clarifying, Huifeng.

I just looked up the 16 Bodhisattva precepts and they are indeed substantially different from the 4 Bodhisattva vows. Interesting! I had assumed the 4 vows were part of the 16 precepts. I think that I thought that because they are Bodhisattva precepts. Virtuous conduct is good for all of course, however there seems to be no emphasis on saving all sentient beings in the 16 Bodhisattva precepts.

Have I misconceived 'saving all sentient beings' to be the heart of Mahayana Buddhism?
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Re: From Theravada to Soto Zen

Postby Huifeng » Fri Mar 26, 2010 7:40 am

shel wrote:Thanks for clarifying, Huifeng.

I just looked up the 16 Bodhisattva precepts and they are indeed substantially different from the 4 Bodhisattva vows. Interesting! I had assumed the 4 vows were part of the 16 precepts. I think that I thought that because they are Bodhisattva precepts. Virtuous conduct is good for all of course, however there seems to be no emphasis on saving all sentient beings in the 16 Bodhisattva precepts.

Have I misconceived 'saving all sentient beings' to be the heart of Mahayana Buddhism?


Personally, I definitely think that you have not misconceived it, and indeed, 'saving all sentient beings' is the heart of the Mahayana. Or, maybe half - the other half being the wisdom and methods through which this is done!

The "four precepts" are originally from the Tiantai school, way back in the 6th cty. They seem to be quite common in Japanese Buddhism, because of the strong influence of Tendai in general. Obviously, this is possibly even more so for Soto Zen, considering Master Dogen's background in Tendai. They are also very common in Chinese Buddhism too.

I've seen some great explanations that relate the four to the four noble truths:
1. dissatisfaction - liberate sentient beings.
2. origination - eliminate defilements.
3. cessation - attain Buddhahood.
4. path - train in Dharmas.

The main forms of the Bodhisattva precepts are different, which a group of (ten) major and (48) minor precepts.

The sixteen precepts used in Japan are different again, basically the three refuges, the three "basic" precepts, and then the ten major precepts. In China and Tibet, I don't think they consider the three refuges as bodhisattva "precepts" (though all bodhisattvas would need to have refuge), and the three "basic" precepts are an over-arching simplification of the entirety of all precepts, not found specifically in either the five, eight, ten, monk / nun or bodhisattva precepts. The sixteen are something of a Japanese arrangement, taken from three different sources.
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Re: From Theravada to Soto Zen

Postby Indrajala » Fri Mar 26, 2010 1:11 pm

Huifeng wrote:The sixteen precepts used in Japan are different again, basically the three refuges, the three "basic" precepts, and then the ten major precepts. In China and Tibet, I don't think they consider the three refuges as bodhisattva "precepts" (though all bodhisattvas would need to have refuge), and the three "basic" precepts are an over-arching simplification of the entirety of all precepts, not found specifically in either the five, eight, ten, monk / nun or bodhisattva precepts. The sixteen are something of a Japanese arrangement, taken from three different sources.


It is interesting that Saicho was willing to "ordain monks" without the actual vinaya precepts.

I think this was actually due to influences he received on the mainland. In the Tang Dynasty there was a large sentiment within Buddhism against the vinaya calling it Hinayana and thus completely unnecessary for Mahayana practitioners. Daoxuan argued vigorously against this and he evidently felt upset about such sentiments. See the following:

《四分律刪繁補闕行事鈔》卷2:「今時不知教者。多自毀傷云。此戒律所禁止。是聲聞之法。於我大乘棄同糞土。猶如黃葉木牛木馬誑止小兒。此之戒法亦復如是。誑汝聲聞子也。」(CBETA, T40, no. 1804, p. 49, b27-c1)

In present times many of those who do not know the teachings destroy and injure themselves saying, "What this Vinaya prohibits is a śrāvaka teaching. For us Mahāyāna we toss it away just like dirty soil. Just like yellow leaves, a wooden cow or a wooden horse deceive a little child, these precept teachings are like this. They deceive you little śrāvaka!"

While I can't say for sure, that tail end remark there "誑汝聲聞子也" strikes me as Daoxuan sarcastically repeating what somebody told him. I think he was really upset, which explains why he fought so hard to have the vinaya respected and upheld.

As I said, Saicho would have been exposed to the various opinions of the day, and he evidently concluded that the vinaya was unnecessary, and he went home and "made monks" without the vinaya precepts.
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Re: From Theravada to Soto Zen

Postby shel » Fri Mar 26, 2010 6:48 pm

Very interesting. Thanks, Huifeng.
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Re: From Theravada to Soto Zen

Postby Bodhi » Sat Jul 17, 2010 12:13 am

That is a really wonderful experience. And quite interesting to read. I am so happy for you.

I am in a way is similar to you. I had been all over place looking for something suitable, they are all great. I still have great respect for Taoism and Laozi's Philosophy because in a way, it is not very far off from Buddhism. I love Therevada as well, but now I am like you, following Chan School of Buddhism. Chan is just chinese for Zen. :]

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Re: From Theravada to Soto Zen

Postby Daniel Arraes » Mon Feb 28, 2011 10:53 pm

Huseng wrote:I've never met a Soto Zen priest who was celibate, refrained from alcohol and meat, and refrained from wearing lay clothes. I've never met one who said he or she was just celibate either.


How about Moriyama Roshi? http://www.terebess.hu/zen/mesterek/mroshi.html

Or perhaps Shundo Aoyama Roshi? http://www.amazon.com/Zen-Seeds-Reflections-Female-Priest/dp/4333014786

They are both celibatarian, living very simple and below-the-radar lives, just like Dogen meant it in the Bendo-Ho.

As Rev. Eijo said once in E-sangha: In Japanese Buddhism you have to dig really hard to find the real masters. Have you dug enough? :smile:
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