Stick to "one path"?

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Stick to "one path"?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Apr 19, 2010 8:48 am

In East Asia the following verse is often recited daily:

法門無量誓願學

"Dharma gates without measure I swear to study/practise them all."

How do you interpret this?

Personally, I take it to mean that a Bodhisattva should study, contemplate and master all dharmas. In more specific terms, I take this to mean studying and contemplating all the extensions of the Buddhadharma. The various forms of meditation, the scriptures in various languages, the sayings of all masters and sages from across time and so on.

However, I don't think everyone would agree with this as being the optimal course of action. They might even call it superfluous and counter-productive. It brings to mind the old saying that if a hunter should chase two rabbits he catches nothing.

That being said, however, is the Bodhisattva chasing two things or he is using multiple means to achieve the objective?

I once explained these sentiments to a Tibetan Bhiksuni who remarked, "It is all well to be a scholar, but you need to stick to one tradition."

I suppose from the perspective of Vajrayana that makes sense, but I've heard of plenty of venerable lamas going from tradition to tradition within Tibet. Perhaps she meant sticking to one nationality? There is something of a perception of a "Tibetan tradition" that encompasses everything within the Tibetan cultural sphere despite there being differences in doctrine and practises between the lineages.

What do you think? Is it best to stick to one tradition or lineage and ignore the rest or study and absorb the totality of the Buddhadharma?
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Re: Stick to "one path"?

Postby Astus » Mon Apr 19, 2010 9:55 am

I think it would be hard to tell what constitutes a single path. I mean, every tradition bases itself on the canon which contains almost everything. Thus one path means just a way of organising the teachings according to a tradition. Thing is, even if one is familiar with more than one hermeneutic system, if one claims to favour none of them it is a rather extra-traditional position of a philosopher, or more likely a personal interpretation. Eventually this is certainly not a black or white thing. Everyone learns about different Buddhist teachings on different levels plus has his own rendering of them all.

Meditation handbooks belong to this or that tradition but contain a variety of methods. So "one path" is not "one book, one technique". From this also comes it is not "many paths" either. There are infinite teachings and if we take that literally it'd take infinite time to master. But even gaining proficiency in a single tradition takes considerable effort, not to mention two or three.

Nagarjuna says in the Twelve Gate Treatise that he teaches Mahayana briefly in that text, because if one comprehends and realises emptiness the six paramitas and all the teachings will be mastered that way. Similar arguments we find in Zen too (see your nature and become a buddha). Fazang's treatise on different gates is a good example of many ways accessing the same truth, and that the one truth contains all the other paths.
"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: Stick to "one path"?

Postby Anders » Mon Apr 19, 2010 12:13 pm

Well, before we can get around to mastering all dharma gates, we still have the matter of liberating our own minds first. To do that, I think you need a certain measure of one-pointedness that is just not possible to achieve if you're not plunging yourself fully and wholeheartedly into one approach.

Astus makes a good case for how prajnaparamita provides master of all other methods as well. The alternative too easily runs the risc of becoming a spiritual jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.

And looking at the biographies and practices of many Chan masters, there is a clear pattern of them delving deep into their Chan practise to the exclusion of everything else and only after they've awakened and accomplished a certain mesure of stability, do they make a major effort to study as many scriptures as possible and mastering as meany means as they can.

Hakuin also outlined rather explicitly that this is a process that is mostly useful towards the more refined stages of awakening when the onus begins to turn from liberating one's mind to manifesting one's mind and actions as a nirmanakaya (ie, bringing about the all-discerning and the perfection-of-action jnanas) that can act naturally to aid others.

That said, I don't think there is anything wrong with broad study. But for me, I'd say the bhikshuni gave a good advice (of course, you'd need to settle on a suitable approach first).
"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: Stick to "one path"?

Postby Astus » Mon Apr 19, 2010 12:41 pm

Thing is, I can very much sympathise with Huseng's question. Simply because I like to put my nose into many Buddhist teachings and I really like a couple of them (at least six lineages). My kind of solution is not a Honen style "select the best" but a Chan-Huayan version of ekayana.
"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: Stick to "one path"?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Apr 19, 2010 12:50 pm

Anders Honore wrote:Well, before we can get around to mastering all dharma gates, we still have the matter of liberating our own minds first. To do that, I think you need a certain measure of one-pointedness that is just not possible to achieve if you're not plunging yourself fully and wholeheartedly into one approach.


Would using multiple methods, if employed wisely, not accelerate the process or allow for a deeper understanding I wonder?

I mean what is considered the practises of various sects may at some point in the past not really have been so sectarian. Even in some circles things evolve. For example in Japan you'll find almost nobody who does both Zen and Pureland, but on the other hand at Foguangshan people can and do both Chan and Pureland practises. In fact the Chan hall is a few minutes walk away from the Pureland Amituofo hall.

Speaking of things in terms of doctrine, I've found reading the debates and discussions in ancient Indian Buddhist thought to be interesting and enriching. The discussions provoke insight into things I had taken for granted or been unaware of before.
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Re: Stick to "one path"?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Apr 19, 2010 12:53 pm

Astus wrote:Thing is, I can very much sympathise with Huseng's question. Simply because I like to put my nose into many Buddhist teachings and I really like a couple of them (at least six lineages). My kind of solution is not a Honen style "select the best" but a Chan-Huayan version of ekayana.


I'm somewhat eclectic myself, but then I just call myself "all purpose Mahayana".

I guess I haven't studied enough to really know for sure where, if at all, I would want to permanently settle.

I don't know if one really has to settle anywhere anyway.
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Re: Stick to "one path"?

Postby Astus » Mon Apr 19, 2010 1:55 pm

A sectarian mindset may not be useful in Buddhism. Just see how many Chinese groups say they accept all 8 schools and at the same time they all do similar things and study similar texts. They call Tendai syncretic, but actually even Theravada teaches so many things.

Taking a specific doctrinal position is used in a debate against someone you don't agree with. Think about these terms: sudden-gradual; easy-difficult; final-temporary; direct-indirect; secret-open; great-small; practical-theoretical; etc.

Instead of identifying with this or that one can always say to go on the bodhisattva path. Or just try to find out to which school people like Yunqi Zhuhong, or Ven. Yinshun belonged to.
"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: Stick to "one path"?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Apr 19, 2010 3:02 pm

Speaking of Chinese traditions, I like Ven. Sheng Yen's approach.

He wrote that for older people he encourages recitation of the Buddha's name, while suggesting other practises for younger people.

He said the Pureland path is entirely doable and easier, but that the Bodhisattva path was faster albeit challenging.

He didn't reject any Chinese traditions and accommodated them all according to individual abilities and preferences.

However, if I recall correctly, he didn't necessarily say positive things about tantra. I'll see if I can find a quote for that.
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Re: Stick to "one path"?

Postby Astus » Mon Apr 19, 2010 3:18 pm

"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: Stick to "one path"?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Apr 19, 2010 3:33 pm



Astus, that's an interesting read. :smile:

However, I think the remarks were about the use of sexual union in some tantras.
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Re: Stick to "one path"?

Postby Astus » Mon Apr 19, 2010 3:52 pm

That's the only one I've ever read from him regarding Mantrayana. It seems to me he wasn't much involved in Tibetan teachings.

Regarding the bodhisattva path I'm not sure how it could have been faster in his interpretation than the Pure Land way, especially because he didn't teach sudden enlightenment in the sense that it is attainment of buddhahood but rather the first step on the bodhisattva path (similar to the Zongmi-Yongming view).
"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: Stick to "one path"?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Apr 20, 2010 10:22 am

Astus wrote:That's the only one I've ever read from him regarding Mantrayana. It seems to me he wasn't much involved in Tibetan teachings.

Regarding the bodhisattva path I'm not sure how it could have been faster in his interpretation than the Pure Land way, especially because he didn't teach sudden enlightenment in the sense that it is attainment of buddhahood but rather the first step on the bodhisattva path (similar to the Zongmi-Yongming view).


Interestingly, Tang Mantrayana, or what it evolved into in Japan, has been reintroduced into Taiwan from Japan, or so I heard.

However, it is still quite different from Tibetan Vajrayana. As I understand it, later period developments like consort practises and so on did not exist in Tang China when Kukai studied there.

In any case, I think we can say that modern Taiwanese developments of Buddhism are, while still being Buddhadharma, somewhat eclectic. Humanism Buddhism as well is a new development that draws from various sources. You don't have to identify with Chan or Jingdu, but just be a Humanistic Buddhist. :smile:

I kind of like that idea. Not so sectarian.
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Re: Stick to "one path"?

Postby Astus » Tue Apr 20, 2010 11:44 am

If you look at the quoted speech of Ven. Shengyan he mentions mainly Tibetan Buddhism and not Shingon. I think that's because there are more Tibetan groups than Mizong. Also I guess original Chinese mantrayana is viewed in a different way and not necessarily identified with Shingon.
"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: Stick to "one path"?

Postby Luke » Tue Apr 20, 2010 9:10 pm

Anders Honore wrote:Well, before we can get around to mastering all dharma gates, we still have the matter of liberating our own minds first. To do that, I think you need a certain measure of one-pointedness that is just not possible to achieve if you're not plunging yourself fully and wholeheartedly into one approach.


I agree. I remember once reading Milarepa say something along the lines of "A human lifetime is too short for a person to learn everything. Instead he should focus on the essentials." (If anyone can find the exact quote, I'd appreciate that.)

I think a person should also consider which traditions he has access to where he lives. All kinds of musings such as "Hmm...should I focus on Shingon but also do a bit of Jodo Shinshu on the side...or should I do Theravada with a dash of Dzogchen...or maybe it would be best if I did both Zen and Pureland..." have little meaning if they are just fantasies. It's better to find a real teacher and get to work.

I think that a person should try many sanghas at first and then the one that he or she likes the most will become obvious over time. Often the reality of a particular sangha will be quite different than one's preconceptions of what one thinks it will feel like.

"Dharma gates without measure I swear to study/practise them all."


I've read another translation which read "Dharma gates without measure I vow to penetrate." I took this to mean that one is vowing to reach the highest levels of wisdom--which could be done within a single tradition--and not necessarily to practice all techniques.

In fact, my lama often emphasizes that meditation is "not a technique." He hasn't explicitly said exactly what it is then, but I would guess that real meditation is more an attitude or a certain type of awareness rather than simply a recipe to be followed.
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Re: Stick to "one path"?

Postby mudra » Wed Apr 21, 2010 12:20 am

Back to the original question, the advice that one of my lamas gave me has stuck with me, which I will paraphrase here: at least get a firm grip on your chosen path first, understand it, practice it, gain some mastery. Once you are fluent in it exploring other points of views won't hurt, and you can gain new perspectives.
(we were at the time discussing the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism which of course emphasize different aspects and use different terminology, or use the same terminology differently).

He also added that: Meanwhile it is important to maintain respect for those other paths, in fact in the Lam Rim tradition there is a great emphasis on being very careful not to assume that other paths were not taught by the Buddha as this would constitute a form of denigration of the Dharma.

As to your observation Huseng that:
However, it is still quite different from Tibetan Vajrayana. As I understand it, later period developments like consort practises and so on did not exist in Tang China when Kukai studied there.

I was always under the impression that Anuttara Yoga Tantra was simply never diffused in East Asia at all until (perhaps) modern times?
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Re: Stick to "one path"?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Apr 21, 2010 2:30 am

mudra wrote:I was always under the impression that Anuttara Yoga Tantra was simply never diffused in East Asia at all until (perhaps) modern times?


Shingon practises yoga-tantra.

That being said, I know of Japanese Shingon priests who take great interest in Tibetan Vajrayana, so there might be some notable developments in that area as time goes on.
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Re: Stick to "one path"?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Apr 21, 2010 2:54 am

Luke wrote:I've read another translation which read "Dharma gates without measure I vow to penetrate." I took this to mean that one is vowing to reach the highest levels of wisdom--which could be done within a single tradition--and not necessarily to practice all techniques.



In Chinese the character is xue which is generally translated as study, practise, master, cultivate, etc... penetration sounds more like an interpretation (I imagine it sounds swell with the gates; in English you don't really 'study gates' unless you're an architect).
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Re: Stick to "one path"?

Postby plwk » Wed Apr 21, 2010 8:47 am

Found this from the sister forum, Dhamma Wheel, a quote attributed to Dogen in his 'Fukanzazengi':
Link
You might hear about ten thousand ways to practice
but just be complete and sit.
What's the point of giving up your seat
to go wandering around in dusty lands and countries?
Take a wrong step and you'll miss what's there.
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Re: Stick to "one path"?

Postby Huifeng » Wed Apr 21, 2010 9:25 am

Huseng wrote:
I once explained these sentiments to a Tibetan Bhiksuni who remarked, "It is all well to be a scholar, but you need to stick to one tradition."



Some good posts, above, but coming back to this point from the bhiksuni, I kind of find it rather ironic. After all, there is basically one teaching from the Buddha, how did it end up as various "traditions" in the first place? How many "traditions" around nowadays can be point to, and say that they are a continuous "one tradition"? Probably very few, if any at all. Which means that the very people who set these traditions in motion, themselves never confined themselves to a single "tradition". Rather, most "traditions" are attempts at hermeneutics on a range of other "traditions". So, I find the bhiksunis comments rather ironic, well meaning, but in some ways, a bit naive even.
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Re: Stick to "one path"?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Apr 21, 2010 3:02 pm

plwk wrote:Found this from the sister forum, Dhamma Wheel, a quote attributed to Dogen in his 'Fukanzazengi':
Link
You might hear about ten thousand ways to practice
but just be complete and sit.
What's the point of giving up your seat
to go wandering around in dusty lands and countries?
Take a wrong step and you'll miss what's there.


That's ironic considering he went all the way to China and spent a lot of time wandering around Japan "like a cloud".
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