Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Frank » Sun May 13, 2012 8:07 am

I enjoy and understand the purpose of the mad Zen attitude and teachings. They are useful and largely what make Zen stand out. There have been many great teachers who use these methods for wonderful ends.

What I have noticed though is that it seems many people can get away with claiming to be a Zen master by using this attitude to hide their ineptness. For example, lets say you meet a person or read a book by that person and they speak in riddles and illogical statements and also sometimes clearly explain already well known things like the Eightfold Path or Karma. Now lets say you meet a person who does not speak in riddles and illogical statements and who also explains the well known things, isn't it highly likely that the person speaking in riddles could be a fraud? As opposed to someone who does not use riddles or illogical statements, generally it is easy to tell if someone is clueless when they are up front about their ideas and teachings.

This is not to say people using riddles are frauds by any means, many of the greatest masters in history used riddles. I am simply saying that the odds are higher that someone who uses riddles and illogic could be a fraud because it is easy to disguise ineptitude with riddles and illogic.

Student: "Teacher, how can I deal with stress at work?"
Illogical Zen master, possible fraud, says: "Elephants lie awake at night."

The student will go home thinking he/she has been given a great koan that will expand their thinking. But isn't it possible the master has no idea how to answer the question and is just using this method because it makes it seem like he does have some kind of insight? And the student generally won't press the question because of the standard that has been set up over the past thousand years which goes:

question
illogical answer
end conversation, begin contemplation, meet back up at a later date for analysis.

When dealing with this kind of a teacher it's not the norm to have them clarify, especially because how could one clarify an illogical riddle meant to create an awakening? To do so would defeat it's purpose. So the student simply accepts it.

Now with a non illogical teacher:

Student: "Teacher, how can I deal with stress at work?"
Master that only speaks in logical, understandable speech: "Focus on your breathing while you work. Try to let your emotions go." or "I don't know." or "Yell at the people who anger you and stomp your feet to relieve the stress."

The logical master will not be able to hide it if he/she simply does not know, if he fumbles for an answer or gives one that is bad advice the student will know immediately. Especially because if the student doesn't understand, they are generally free to simply say "I don't understand, could you explain further?"

So Zen and it's wonderful illogic can sometimes be a screen to hide behind for frauds.

Has anyone else noticed this?
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby mindyourmind » Sun May 13, 2012 9:49 am

It's certainly not just Zen, Frank.

We all know a few Dzogchen "masters" and Vajrayana "masters" who are legends in their own minds and nowhere else.

It's a Dharma thing, I'm sure its been with us from within a few weeks after the Buddha's enlightenment :smile:
It calls for greater discernment, greater investigation and a measure of experience and common sense. Also, lineage will help you out more often than not.

Zen proper is an awesome vehicle, don't let the "modern masters" put you off.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Huifeng » Sun May 13, 2012 10:27 am

Improving one's own knowledge and understanding of Dharma is the best vaccine against bogus teachers of any stripe.

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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby kirtu » Sun May 13, 2012 3:03 pm

Hello Frank - Zen is not about riddles or illogical speech. If the master has some authenticity then their entire purpose is to move you to realization. Daido Roshi said that this was just like when a baby bird that couldn't fly fell out of a nest - the mother bird then spends all it's time trying to teach the baby bird how to fly. Now if he had said to me something like "Elephant lie awake at night" then I'd consider that. People might say that he did say things like that in his koan cases but certainly not in teisho, interviews or mondo. So the context and the individual matter. If a Zen master said to a trainee delivering teisho during ango (I've now forgotten what this position is called) "Take down the flag" that would be another matter as that is a well-known phrase and should indicate to anyone that the teisho was too conceptual.

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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Astus » Sun May 13, 2012 5:28 pm

When something is read in English it's easy to forget that it's a translation from long ago and from a foreign sub-culture. Those who today actually talk like the people in koans, well, they're just lost in language. Zen is not illogical, nor is it about being illogical. If something doesn't make sense, one should ask, investigate and study. There is no use of believing that just because a guy in robes said something it must be some mystical revelation.
"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)

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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; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby shel » Sun May 13, 2012 6:02 pm

I don't see the problem. A Zen teachers job isn't helping people how to deal with stress at their job, though they might try to help them with that. And a Zen teacher might actually be a bad choice for assistance in such matters. A Zen teachers only essential job is 'pointing to the moon', so to speak, and anyone can do that, even a so called fraud. This is how just about anyone can fill the role of a Zen teacher. They don't actually need to be any good at their job, they only need to play the part.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Astus » Sun May 13, 2012 6:12 pm

It is a bodhisattva's mission to help people suffer less, ultimately leading them to complete liberation. A teacher of Zen should embody that aspiration by all means possible.
"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)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“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; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby shel » Sun May 13, 2012 6:32 pm

Astus wrote:It is a bodhisattva's mission to help people suffer less, ultimately leading them to complete liberation. A teacher of Zen should embody that aspiration by all means possible.

It's not clear what you are saying, Astus. Are you suggesting that Zen teachers should get medical training, for example, to "embody" the aspiration to help "by all means possible"?
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby asunthatneversets » Sun May 13, 2012 6:40 pm

Sometimes those illogical statements are used to catch the student off guard, just like the implementation of loud yells, clapping, slapping, throwing objects, stomping feet etc... The student expects a "logical" answer in the form of a concept they can latch onto and instead the teacher points outside language and concepts to suchness itself.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Frank » Sun May 13, 2012 6:48 pm

shel wrote:I don't see the problem. A Zen teachers job isn't helping people how to deal with stress at their job, though they might try to help them with that. And a Zen teacher might actually be a bad choice for assistance in such matters. A Zen teachers only essential job is 'pointing to the moon', so to speak, and anyone can do that, even a so called fraud. This is how just about anyone can fill the role of a Zen teacher. They don't actually need to be any good at their job, they only need to play the part.



Your post kind of proves my point,in that frauds and inept teachers, by using Zen illogic, have duped many people into thinking exactly what you posted above. I really hope, for your own sake, that you don't listen to just any idiot who thinks they can teach Zen. Where did you get this idea that "just about anyone can fill the role of a Zen teacher." and that "anyone can do that, even a so called fraud."? A Zen teacher must be good at their job and cannot be a fraud by definition, as a fraud is a person who is pretending to be something they are not. So any time someone is a fraud, they are not whatever they pretend to be.

And every Zen teacher I've ever spoken with teaches their students and helps them with many of life's problems, they don't just sit on a meditation cushion and babble koans. I have personally, been the student of, and specifically asked two different Zen teachers myriad questions, among them roughly the same as my hypothetical question above, and I received sound advice based on logic and attention to the Dharma. When dealing with a lot of stress, one teacher (I asked about stress in college dealing with professors) taught me to step aside from the thoughts that were bothering me and remember that they are not self, he explained how this idea is found in the Heart Sutra. The other (I asked about co-workers who didn't do their job and forced me to pick up the slack, stressing me out severely) told me that he used to deal with the same when he was a lay person and that he found the only real fix was practicing very strong loving kindness exercises before, during and after work.

I have never been the student of a Zen master I thought was a fraud, only read works by ones I think probably are, and heard stories from students of ones that may be. My first teacher was in fact of the Rinzai [Linji] school (after moving far away from my first teacher for work, my second was just broadly a synthesis of Ch'an in general, no specific school, although more Caodong [Soto] than anything) and did use koans but would also happily answer questions in plain speech as well, koans were just a vehicle he used specifically for koan practice. Every now and then he would say some things in his Dharma talks or direct interviews that were the flavor of illogical Zen but usually framed with other speech that made it reasonable.

I did learn from a Zen teacher for a very short while who had no idea what he was talking about, he wasn't a fraud, he just gave bad advice and taught things that were counter to the Dharma, probably because he was not ready to teach or just didn't understand the Dharma fully. All of his students were only his students for a short while for this reason. He eventually left the temple and moved elsewhere. If just anyone could teach Zen, I would imagine his students would have stayed under him and somehow still learned the right stuff and experienced Kensho or even come to enlightenment through his teachings or at the very least would have found new insights on the Dharma and better life experiences overall. Instead they realized he could not effectively teach Zen, and left. On a happy note, six years later I found out he is doing very well and has many students at the center he now teaches at so it seems he came into his own and (hopefully) became a better teacher!
Last edited by Frank on Sun May 13, 2012 7:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Frank » Sun May 13, 2012 6:49 pm

Astus wrote:When something is read in English it's easy to forget that it's a translation from long ago and from a foreign sub-culture. Those who today actually talk like the people in koans, well, they're just lost in language. Zen is not illogical, nor is it about being illogical. If something doesn't make sense, one should ask, investigate and study. There is no use of believing that just because a guy in robes said something it must be some mystical revelation.


:good:

I agree mostly, accept I think illogic does have it's place, sometimes it can help a student think differently in a positive way when used by a skilled teacher.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Astus » Sun May 13, 2012 7:02 pm

shel wrote:It's not clear what you are saying, Astus. Are you suggesting that Zen teachers should get medical training, for example, to "embody" the aspiration to help "by all means possible"?


Some do have medical or therapeutic training too. But that's not the point. If somebody comes with a problem with their relationship or their boss, the teacher can give some useful instructions on how to make the mind more peaceful and compassionate. Since problems exist in the mind, it is in the mind where they can be handled in the first place. Then, if it is needed, the student can take further steps, but with more wisdom and kindness.
"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)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“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; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Frank » Sun May 13, 2012 7:08 pm

Astus wrote:
shel wrote:It's not clear what you are saying, Astus. Are you suggesting that Zen teachers should get medical training, for example, to "embody" the aspiration to help "by all means possible"?


Some do have medical or therapeutic training too. But that's not the point. If somebody comes with a problem with their relationship or their boss, the teacher can give some useful instructions on how to make the mind more peaceful and compassionate. Since problems exist in the mind, it is in the mind where they can be handled in the first place. Then, if it is needed, the student can take further steps, but with more wisdom and kindness.


:good:
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Frank » Sun May 13, 2012 7:10 pm

mindyourmind wrote:It's certainly not just Zen, Frank.

We all know a few Dzogchen "masters" and Vajrayana "masters" who are legends in their own minds and nowhere else.

It's a Dharma thing, I'm sure its been with us from within a few weeks after the Buddha's enlightenment :smile:
It calls for greater discernment, greater investigation and a measure of experience and common sense. Also, lineage will help you out more often than not.

Zen proper is an awesome vehicle, don't let the "modern masters" put you off.


Very true! Good advice.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby shel » Sun May 13, 2012 7:19 pm

Astus wrote:
shel wrote:It's not clear what you are saying, Astus. Are you suggesting that Zen teachers should get medical training, for example, to "embody" the aspiration to help "by all means possible"?


Some do have medical or therapeutic training too. But that's not the point. If somebody comes with a problem with their relationship or their boss, the teacher can give some useful instructions on how to make the mind more peaceful and compassionate. Since problems exist in the mind, it is in the mind where they can be handled in the first place. Then, if it is needed, the student can take further steps, but with more wisdom and kindness.

Huh? The problem stated in OP was "stress at work." In this case the stressed person may not even have a boss proper, and in any case the issue could be quite deep seated requiring more than mere peaceful thoughts to overcome. The Zen teacher may not be at all qualified to help in the matter, or at least not the best choice for assistance. That is not to say peaceful and compassionate thoughts are bad.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby shel » Sun May 13, 2012 7:31 pm

Frank wrote:
shel wrote:I don't see the problem. A Zen teachers job isn't helping people how to deal with stress at their job, though they might try to help them with that. And a Zen teacher might actually be a bad choice for assistance in such matters. A Zen teachers only essential job is 'pointing to the moon', so to speak, and anyone can do that, even a so called fraud. This is how just about anyone can fill the role of a Zen teacher. They don't actually need to be any good at their job, they only need to play the part.


Your post kind of proves my point,in that frauds and inept teachers, by using Zen illogic, have duped many people into thinking exactly what you posted above. I really hope, for your own sake, that you don't listen to just any idiot who thinks they can teach Zen. Where did you get this idea that "just about anyone can fill the role of a Zen teacher." and that "anyone can do that, even a so called fraud."? A Zen teacher must be good at their job and cannot be a fraud by definition, as a fraud is a person who is pretending to be something they are not. So any time someone is a fraud, they are not whatever they pretend to be.

Let me just ask you this: Have you ever had a Zen teacher who ever referred to themselves as a Zen Master? If not, why not if that's what they are and not simply a role that they are playing?

And every Zen teacher I've ever spoken with teaches their students and helps them with many of life's problems...

I didn't say that this wasn't the case. I'm only pointing out that they may not be especially good at such assistance and it is not their essential job.

I did learn from a Zen teacher for a very short while who had no idea what he was talking about, he wasn't a fraud, he just gave bad advice and taught things that were counter to the Dharma, probably because he was not ready to teach or just didn't understand the Dharma fully. All of his students were only his students for a short while for this reason. He eventually left the temple and moved elsewhere. If just anyone could teach Zen, I would imagine his students would have stayed under him and somehow still learned the right stuff and experienced Kensho or even come to enlightenment through his teachings or at the very least would have found new insights on the Dharma and better life experiences overall. Instead they realized he could not effectively teach Zen, and left. On a happy note, six years later I found out he is doing very well and has many students at the center he now teaches at so it seems he came into his own and (hopefully) became a better teacher!

Or does he simply have better students? :smile: I don't say that as a putdown, just something to consider.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Frank » Mon May 14, 2012 6:37 am

Let me just ask you this: Have you ever had a Zen teacher who ever referred to themselves as a Zen Master? If not, why not if that's what they are and not simply a role that they are playing?
Yes, my current Ch'an teacher, albeit he has never literally said ''I am a Zen master.'' to me but everyone recognizes him as such and that's his official title which he certainly knows and accepts. My former teacher was less formal, teaching at a center not a temple so I don't really know.
Or does he simply have better students? I don't say that as a putdown, just something to consider.
Yes all forty or so of his students over a three year span were just bad students, including me, and thats why all of them (except one or two of them) and myself moved on. And he moved to a new center and after six more years of training he now coincidentally has good students. It has nothing to do with his teaching ability lacking back then and developing over time.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Indrajala » Mon May 14, 2012 4:16 pm

Frank wrote:The logical master will not be able to hide it if he/she simply does not know, if he fumbles for an answer or gives one that is bad advice the student will know immediately. Especially because if the student doesn't understand, they are generally free to simply say "I don't understand, could you explain further?"

So Zen and it's wonderful illogic can sometimes be a screen to hide behind for frauds.

Has anyone else noticed this?


If you feel unsatisfied with someone's seemingly illogical responses, it is best to move on elsewhere.

Chan or even Zen at is core is about meditation, not an incomprehensible exegesis derived from archaic koan/gong'an literature that only a few scholars really only understand.

In Taiwan here individuals who teach Chan meditation don't behave strangely. They speak in comprehensible ways. They also will provide solid advice that is easy to digest.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Frank » Mon May 14, 2012 4:30 pm

Huseng wrote:
If you feel unsatisfied with someone's seemingly illogical responses, it is best to move on elsewhere.

Chan or even Zen at is core is about meditation, not an incomprehensible exegesis derived from archaic koan/gong'an literature that only a few scholars really only understand.

In Taiwan here individuals who teach Chan meditation don't behave strangely. They speak in comprehensible ways. They also will provide solid advice that is easy to digest.

I feel pretty much the same. I think mainly in the west people get fooled into thinking Ch'an and Zen is illogical babblings when the illogical stuff is only a small part and just a specific training technique as opposed to the language of the whole thing and not so much in the east since it comes from there and has only taken hold in the west in the last hundred years. So many in the west are uneducated about it or mislead.
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Re: Issues with deficient teaching masked by the illogic of Zen

Postby Dechen Norbu » Mon May 14, 2012 4:54 pm

You know, Frank, the more zen practitioners think like you, the less chances frauds will have to keep fooling people.
But you know, from my contact with some "zen circles", I also get the impression that there are those who want to be fooled. That poor excuse for "Zen" is the kind of Zen they want. Uncompromising, witty, cool, trendy... worthless.
Give them the real thing and they will run away like wild horses.
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