Renunciation in Soto Zen

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shel
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Renunciation in Soto Zen

Postby shel » Sat Apr 24, 2010 6:50 pm

Was reading a recent online discussion about renunciation in Soto Zen Buddhism and some curious things came to light. Rev. Nonin Chowaney, an American Zen Master who chairs the Membership Committee of the American Zen Teachers Association and serves on the Priest Training Committee of the Soto Zen Teachers Association, was part of this discussion and in support of his rather odd Soto Zen concept of renunciation he offered the following link to an article he'd written on the subject. See:

In the public article Nonin Chowaney writes:
"Renunciation does not mean becoming a monk; it means "turning away and turning towards." Both the monk and the lay person must make this turn."

By this definition anyone who's interests "turn towards" spiritual practice over other worldly pursuits is a renunciate. It would also seem to degrade the meaning of what being a monk represents. By this definition a Zen monk or Zen priest can be married, drink alcohol, have a job and career, eat meat, and be generally indistinguishable from any non-renunciate.

Nonin Chowaney also seems to claim that what others outside of Soto Zen Buddhism define as renunciation or monastic life is irrelevant. I suppose that would be all well and good if Soto Zen Buddhism existed in a vacuum, but it does not exist in a vacuum, it exists in this world, a world where people must coexist, cooperate, and agree on meaning of terms such as renunciation and monk, least those terms and the truth behind those terms become meaningless.

What do you think, can a monk drink etc and still be monk?

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Indrajala
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Re: Renunciation in Soto Zen

Postby Indrajala » Sat Apr 24, 2010 10:26 pm

The cultural context in which Soto Zen has evolved in recent decades should be taken into account.

It isn't just American Soto priests who have heavily revised traditional views on renunciation.

Here in Japan the word shukke (出家) doesn't mean the same thing as it does in China or elsewhere in the Buddhist world. Next door in Taiwan when you renounce you take the Vinaya and the social pressure of that society demands that you conform to it, never mind that there exists mechanisms within Buddhist institutions to deal with violations. As a lay person you're not held to so high a standard of behaviour, but a bhiksu(ni) caught drinking, stealing or fornicating would not be looked upon favourably.

However, in Soto Zen there is no transmission of the Vinaya, so the priests are still upasaka (laity). As my friend who is a Soto priest here in Japan explained to me his vows do not actually include celibacy or a prohibition on alcohol consumption (you're just not supposed to engage in the trade of it). So, technically there is no violation of precepts.

As I said on Zen Forum International, I think renunciation in modern Soto Zen cannot begin to compare to the renunciation in Theravada or Taiwanese Buddhism.

What do you think, can a monk drink etc and still be monk?

In Japanese traditions this is acceptable. In the rest of Buddhism, no. I agree with the later assessment. Again, keep in mind what translates as "monk" in Japanese doesn't correspond to the same concept in the rest of Buddhist traditions. Bhiksu means taking the whole set of Vinaya vows. This doesn't happen in Soto.
tad etat sarvajñānaṃ karuṇāmūlaṃ bodhicittahetukam upāyaparyavasānam iti |

shel
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Re: Renunciation in Soto Zen

Postby shel » Sun Apr 25, 2010 1:07 am


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Huifeng
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Re: Renunciation in Soto Zen

Postby Huifeng » Sun Apr 25, 2010 3:18 am

For a bit of perspective, maybe a look into the word "seclusion", which is basically the same as "renunciation", is in order. This is NOT Soto Zen position, but the position of early Buddhism up to the Mahayana period, and the same attitude found in China, at least, up to the present.

It is traditionally given as three stages, corresponding to the three trainings.

1. physical seclusion (= training in moral discipline): physical detach from objects of craving and aversion, ideally in an environment suitable for meditation practice.
2. mental seclusion (= training in meditation): temporarily detach the mind from craving and aversion, ideally by entering into dhyana meditative states.
3. true seclusion (= training in insight): viewing phenomena as impermanent, dissatisfactory and not self, to fully remove the underlying causes of mental craving and attachment.

The first two, which are temporary and conditioned, are basically considered necessary for the third one, which is final and does not depend on conditions. Thus, once the final state of true seclusion is reached, one does not need to maintain physical and mental (meditative) seclusion. However, because at this point, all defilements are removed, it is simply impossible for such a person to kill, steal, engage in sexual acts, lie, etc. They may come and go from dhyana, though.

Mahayana traditions like to emphasize that "seclusion" is true seclusion, not just the former stages. Well, actually, the Buddha did too. However, just by emphasizing that the final seclusion is the goal, does not mean that the first two are not necessary. One who cannot maintain the first two types of seclusion simply is unable to reach final seclusion, release from defilements.

Thus, while having "real renunciation" may not necessitate wanting to become a monk, one definitely would not want to have a job, own a house or car, start or continue a relationship, either! To suggest that one should "renounce wanting to be a monk / nun", but continue with all those worldly things, is kind of funny. (As in tragic comedy.)

For some Mahayana traditions, "renunciation" is when one renounces intentions to become an arhat or pratyekabuddha, but only wishes to become a fully awakened Buddha. Of course, to become a fully awakened Buddha, one also needs to engage in the three forms of seclusion as outlined above. But just add an awful lot of merit into the equation, too! So, even the Mahayana argument doesn't really hold out against abandoning unskillful behavior.

Restraint from alcohol as a precept is slightly different. Whereas any sort of killing, stealing, sexual actions, or false speech are always driven by some sort of mental defilements, drinking alcohol is not. The original prohibition against alcohol was when an arhat got drunk! Even a drunk arhat can't arise defilements, just throw up and sleep it off! haha! However, for other people, when they drink, the mind is distorted, and it is much easier for them to arise defiled states. Hence the prohibition.


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m0rl0ck
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Re: Renunciation in Soto Zen

Postby m0rl0ck » Sun Apr 25, 2010 6:31 am

If you read the whole article instead of one quote taken out of context , its a good read. Heres a quote:

"the importance of accepting the precepts and making them paramount in our lives cannot be underestimated."
Ride the horse in the direction its going.

~Werner Erhard

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Indrajala
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Re: Renunciation in Soto Zen

Postby Indrajala » Sun Apr 25, 2010 7:18 am

tad etat sarvajñānaṃ karuṇāmūlaṃ bodhicittahetukam upāyaparyavasānam iti |

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Re: Renunciation in Soto Zen

Postby Indrajala » Sun Apr 25, 2010 7:22 am

tad etat sarvajñānaṃ karuṇāmūlaṃ bodhicittahetukam upāyaparyavasānam iti |

shel
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Re: Renunciation in Soto Zen

Postby shel » Sun Apr 25, 2010 6:08 pm


shel
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Re: Renunciation in Soto Zen

Postby shel » Sun Apr 25, 2010 6:17 pm


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Re: Renunciation in Soto Zen

Postby Lazy_eye » Sun Apr 25, 2010 6:18 pm

It seems to me there are two different questions to be considered.

One is the institutional/social question -- that is, should there be a function of "priest" which is different from "monk" as was traditionally understood across the centuries? In other words, do we agree with the way this function has evolved in Japanese Buddhism? Actually it is not so new, since we can see that Shinran (12th century) had a wife and son.

We can argue over whether the "priest" model is preferable or not to the Chinese monastic-lay model, or whether Japanese should be using the term "monk", but again this is mostly an institutional question.

The deeper question is how we define anuttara samyak sambodhi and the steps that lead to this goal. Since the path is the same for everyone, how Buddhism organizes itself in terms of various roles and functions is not really the core issue. A tradition may allow priests to live what is basically a lay lifestyle, but this just means that the priest will face the same constraints that laypeople do in terms of how completely they can realize the path. Putting on special robes isn't, in itself, going to get you or I any closer to enlightenment.

So what I wonder is: has Soto Zen also revised how it sees the goal and the path? How does a Japanese priest with a wife, family and car view his practice? What are his aspirations? (And I mean here somebody who is serious about it, not just running the family funeral business). As long as someone's understanding of what they are doing is in accordance with the dharma, whatever role they are in simply sets the parameters and conditions for practice. But if the path itself has been redefined -- well, there we would be talking about radical break with the rest of Buddhism.

Huseng, you're over there so maybe you'd be a position to answer such a question. I remember on e-sangha there was a Japanese practitioner (Matylda) who kept saying that, no, the view in Japanese Buddhism hasn't fundamentally changed.

LE

shel
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Re: Renunciation in Soto Zen

Postby shel » Sun Apr 25, 2010 10:15 pm


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Re: Renunciation in Soto Zen

Postby m0rl0ck » Sun Apr 25, 2010 11:13 pm

Ride the horse in the direction its going.

~Werner Erhard

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Re: Renunciation in Soto Zen

Postby m0rl0ck » Sun Apr 25, 2010 11:28 pm

Ride the horse in the direction its going.

~Werner Erhard

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Re: Renunciation in Soto Zen

Postby Indrajala » Mon Apr 26, 2010 3:22 am

tad etat sarvajñānaṃ karuṇāmūlaṃ bodhicittahetukam upāyaparyavasānam iti |

Ngawang Drolma
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Re: Renunciation in Soto Zen

Postby Ngawang Drolma » Mon Apr 26, 2010 4:38 am

Shel, please contact Nonin directly with your inquiries. This thread is closed. You can start a general thread about the state of Soto Zen today if you wish.

Thanks,
Laura


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