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Saturday, September 16, 2017

On Zen Buddhism - Collected Parts

The Perfect Way knows no difficulties
Except that it refuses to make preference
Only when freed from hate and love
It reveals itself fully and without disguise

A tenth of an inch's difference
And heaven and earth are set apart
If you want to see it manifest
Take no thoughts either for or against it

To set up what you like against what you dislike
That is the disease of the mind
When the deep meaning [of the way] is not understood
Peace of mind is disturbed and nothing is gained

[The Way] is perfect like unto vast space
With nothing wanting, nothing superfluous
It is indeed, do to making choices
That its suchness is lost sight of

When the mind rests supreme in the oneness of things
Dualism vanishes by itself
            
-beginning of the Hsin-hsin-ming by Seng-ts'an
            as translated by D. T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism, First Series


Part I

The movement we know of as Zen Buddhism is properly understood to be a contemplative sect of Mahayana Buddhism, the great vehicle of the Pure Land.

Adherents to the Zen tradition claim to be able to trace its origins to the beginning of the Buddhism, to the person of Gotama Siddhartha himself, through his disciple Ananda, to Sakyamuni.

Zen practitioners also claim that there exists an unbroken line of succession from Sakyamuni through Bodidharma to Hui-neng, the sixth and last patriarch of Zen.

Let me clarify.

What is meant by an unbroken line of succession is that the "Buddha mind," which in its essence is ineffable, and indescribable, is passed from one Buddha to the next by means of a sacred ceremony.

The transfer of enlightenment is referred to as the "transmission of the lamp;" it is the passing on of the "true dharma eye," which adherents of Buddhism claim Gotama Siddhartha possessed.

The transmission of the "true dharma eye," in Buddhism is analogous to the tradition of apostolic succession in Christianity, it is the transfer of a special charism, and a position of authority from one teacher, and one generation to the next.
           
However, the origins of Zen Buddhism, like the origins of the Christian Church, are shrouded in the mists of history. They are complicated by cultural traditions and politics, and there is some question regarding whether what we know of as Zen today, a predominantly Japanese form of Buddhism, developed in the Ch`an (Zen) school of Chinese Buddhism, derived from the Buddhism brought from India into China by the missionary monk Bodidharma (c. 520 CE), or whether it is derived from the practice of quietism that was developed by a near contemporary of the original Buddha, Lao Tzu (c.500 BCE), whose teachings became the foundation for the Chinese religion Taoism.

Whatever the origins of Zen Buddhism may have been, what constitutes Zen today is the physical and mental, and spiritual discipline, which its practitioners claim is a genuine and inspired route to enlightenment.

The great teacher, D. T. Suzuki says in his elegant treatise on The Training of a Zen Buddhist Monk, says:

As Zen is a discipline and not a philosophy, it deals directly with life; and this is where Zen has developed its most characteristic features. It may be described as a form of mysticism, but the way it handles its experience is altogether unique. Hence the special designation of Zen Buddhism.[i]
The practitioner of Zen, may appear to an outside observer as someone engaged in a mystical exercise, but from the practitioners perspective they are engaged in the art of living.


Part II

You may not hear this from the lips of a Zen Master: a practitioner of Zen is someone attempting to reach enlightenment.

The Zen Master would say: enlightenment is something which cannot be grasped.

This would seem to make the practice of Zen an exercise in futility

Why reach for something that you can never take hold of?

Why set a goal that can never be realized?

Zen doesn't claim that a person cannot possess enlightenment.

Zen merely suggests that while reaching for it, it cannot be grasped.

Enlightenment in Zen, is something which defies the ability of reason (the mind) to comprehend.

The state of being referred to as enlightened, cannot be expressed.

Being in a state of enlightenment is the possession of the "true dharma eye," it is to exist, at one with the experience of the ineffable, it is to have an intrinsic and utterly congruous link with what is true.

Zen maintains the idea that the attainment of enlightenment can be sudden, and is always characterized by a radical transfiguration of consciousness.

Zen suggests that its method is an appropriate vehicle for a person to take, if he or she desires to become enlightened.

Zen suggests that its method zazen (the sitting meditation), is particularly useful for the development of human consciousness in a manner that will make it more susceptible to the experience of sudden enlightenment.

“Zen tells us to grasp the truth of Sunyata, ‘Absolute Emptiness,’ and this without the mediacy of intellect or logic, it is to be done by intuition or immediate perception.”[ii]

The methods that Zen employs in its discipline are: sitting and breathing meditation, meditation upon the sutras, and the use of the Koan.


Part III

Zen is a development of Mahayana Buddhism, the Greater Vehicle, the Pure Land Buddhism.

What differentiates the Zen tradition from other traditions of Mahayana Buddhism is the legend of Bodidharma; who "for nine years remained seated in meditation before the wall of a monastery until his legs withered away."[iii] While in the posture of za-zen, the sitting meditation, Bodidharma attained enlightenment.

The sitting and breathing meditation is done in order to balance the physical center of the practitioner. The goal is to set the body at perfect ease so that the mind may escape from it.

Having attained enlightenment through the sitting meditation Bodidharma became the first Patriarch of Zen. Bodidharma transmitted the "Buddha mind" to his disciple Hui-ko, who became the second Patriarch of the Zen tradition.

The technique of Za-zen is structured accordingly

The main point for the sitter is to have his ears and his shoulders, nose and naval stand to each other in one vertical plane, while his tongue rests against his upper palate and his lips and teeth are firmly closed. Let his eyes be slightly opened in order to avoid falling asleep.[iv]

The Zen tradition claims that this posture is particularly useful for acquiring the meditative state of mind. Though this "special posture is recommended...Zen has nothing to do with the form the body may take."[v]

The sitting and breathing meditation is the heart of Zen, but the Zen mind is not bound by it.

The sitting and breathing meditation, za-zen is supposed to lever the mind into Buddha consciousness. It is in the meditative state that the Zen practitioner attempts to plumb the meaning of the sutras or koans, nevertheless, the Zen Masters maintain that:

The experience of enlightenment is not dependent on meditation; there is no causal connection between the two. Meditational practice is not the cause nor the condition for coming to a realization. Once awakened to wisdom, the mind sees nature, its own nature, which is identical to Buddha nature.[vi]
           
Meditation upon the sutras is the time honored tradition of Buddhism, and as such Zen Buddhism has a high regard for the sutras. The sutras are considered to be the writings of those who spoke with true Buddha consciousness. Reading "the sutras continued to be held in high regard [but] it was more in meditation than in study that efforts were made to appropriate the sutras."[vii]

In Zen there is both a deep reverence for, and a complete willingness to depart from all norms, and traditional forms.

The Zen Master holds this view of the sutras and their most revered mediation practices, because of the prevailing belief that any strict or formalized adherence to specific practices, rituals, or methods can serve to obstruct the individual from the attainment of enlightenment.

Part IV

In the practice of Zen, the truth is not contained within the form; it is the transcendence of consciousness toward the experience of the ineffable that matters.


In the Christian tradition, Christian contemplatives developed a mode of expressing God’s nature known as the via negative, the negative way. The understanding being that we can never adequately state, or positively affirm what is true about the infinite nature of God. We can only state what God is not.

We cannot even say that God is love, that God is good, or that God is just, because our understanding of love, and goodness, and justice is necessarily circumscribed and limited by our position in the universe as finite beings, conditioned by both time and space.

We can only say that God is not hate, God is not evil, and God is not corrupt. 

The very same idea is similarly represented in the Hebrew use of the tetragrammaton YHWH for the name of the deity, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In the Hebrew tradition the name of the deity cannot even be expressed, let alone represent as a graven image. The tetragrammaton stands in the place God’s name, representing the deity, the fundamental reality that is the source of all being.

The sutras at best point in the direction of the truth. But because the truth is ultimately inexpressible any attempt to contain it within a sentence, an essay, or a poem, must ultimately meet with failure.

The primary sutras in the Zen cannon are the Prajnaparamita, sutras (the sutra on emptiness), and the Platform sutras of the sixth Patriarch.

The sutra on emptiness stresses the goal of za-zen: to release the mind from its attachment to things. "The Platform sutra warns against false practice, especially against clinging to purity or emptiness."[viii] The emphasis that Hui-neng, the sixth Patriarch places on the non-attachment of the mind to the concept of emptiness is indicative of how it is that the mind will try to objectify any concept.

It is the process of objectifying reality that causes our view of it to become, and remain circumscribed. The circumscribed mind is focused of finitudes, and thus is unable to experience the infinite. In turn, this keeps the experience of enlightenment out of the hand of the practitioner who is reaching for it.

As a means of preventing the practitioner of Zen from a meaningless objectification of his or her studies, the koan method was developed.

The koan is a verbal puzzle which usually boils down to an a-rational concept or paradox.

Meditating on a koan is meant to afford the practitioner the opportunity to shock his or her mind out of the mundane, and into the super-reality of the Buddha mind.

"The koan exercises which are the prevailing method at present of mastering Zen involves many years of close application."[ix] D. T. Suzuki tells us.

All things are reducible to the One, and where is this One reducible? Keep this koan in your mind and never allow yourself to think that quietude or a state of unconsciousness is the sine qua non in your koan exercise. When you feel confused in your mind so that your power of attention refuses to work its own way, do not try to gather it up with a thought, but mustering your spirits keep up your koan by all means before you. Courage and determination are most in need of at this juncture.[x]


Part V

By meditating on koan, and on the sutras, but ultimately through the practice of the sitting-breathing meditation, za-zen, the Zen practitioner prepares for the experience of enlightenment.

As a result of the wisdom gained through Zen, the practitioner hopes to contribute more significantly toward the well-being of the world.

Therefore we have to see the real truth, the real situation. Our daily lives, the way we drink, what we eat, has to do with the world's political situation. Meditation can see deeply into things, to see how we can change, how we can transform our situation. To transform our situation is to transform our minds. To transform our minds is also to transform our situation, because the situation is mind, and mind is situation. Awakening is important. The nature of the bombs, the nature of injustice, the nature of the weapons, and the nature of our own beings are the same. This is the real meaning of engaged Buddhism.[xi]

In all forms of Buddhism, the precept is held, that being able to contribute to the well being of the world requires that we accept the simple-truth concerning the interconnectedness of all things.

It is necessary that we come to grips with the fact that there is no essential separation between any one person and every other person, between animals and plants, plants and minerals, down to the most elemental unit of being.

According to the principles of Zen, any world-view suggesting that there is dispositional relationship between any two definable objects (things or beings) is flawed.

Every thing or being, animate or inanimate, living or dead, is a concrescent society, a multi-valenced reality, of whom-of which it is truthfully asserted, that their relationships to (or with) all other things or beings are ontological properties of their essential nature.  

On the ultimate level, all-things-are-one.

Just as a piece of paper is the fruit, the combination of many elements that can be called non-paper elements, the individual is made of non-individual elements. If you are a poet you will see very clearly that there is cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud there will be no water; without water, the trees cannot grow; and without trees you cannot make paper. So the cloud is in here. The existence of this page is dependent on the existence of a cloud.[xii]

The assumption that we are intrinsically connected is not merely a postulation of Buddhism.

In Hinduism, Brahma is said to be the God within whose dreaming the entire drama of the universe unfolds, in whom every action takes place.

In Christianity, God is said to be the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, who at the end of time will be All in All, the unification of all beings. God, creates the universe, the universe comes into being through God, exists in God, is maintained and supported by God, at every level. Not one thing is excluded.
           
In science, in the school of quantum physics we see these same themes shaping our understanding of the most fundamental level of reality. And as we observe and measure the inner dynamics of complex systems, in biology, the weather, or even "artificial" systems like economics, we are able to perceive that even the most minor interaction between elements have broad and far ranging consequences throughout the entire systems. Our observations of these connections affirms the understanding that there is no actual separation between any one thing, and every other thing.

On the quantum level, the entire universe is entangled.



Part VI

The goal of Zen is for the practitioner to arrive at the fundamental understanding of the complete interconnectedness of all things.

To live with this experience is to be enlightened.

Though many people practice Zen throughout the world. The institutions of Zen Buddhism hold that the most serious practitioners are those people who have devoted their entire life to the discipline.

When a person decides to become a Zen monk they have decided to devote their life to "humility, labor, service, prayer, gratitude and meditation."[xiii] A Zen monk live in a highly disciplined community, under the guidance of a master who helps them develop in meditation, through the study of sutras, and primarily through the use of koan.

In the monastery, they are able to work and provide service for their community, and develop the virtues of humility, prayer and gratitude. A Zen monk sees this work as not only of benefit to themselves, but as benefitting the entire world. They see the fruits of their labors as the fruit of peace, whose ripened bounty they hope will overflow from the walls of the monasteries and cloisters within which they live, to permeate the entire world.

In our discussion of Zen, we should be mindful that traditional institutions of Zen Buddhism would remind people not to fall into the mistaken belief that Zen is only a meditational practice, or a system of discipline. Zen can easily be misunderstood as a contemplative movement outside of Buddhism. This is especially true in America where so many of our common and casual associations with the term Zen have to do with best selling books such as Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, or  Zen and the Art of Tennis.

The tension between a “western” view of Zen, and a traditional view of Zen Buddhism is clearly articulated by the religious scholar Ray Grigg, in his, The Tao of Zen, "The focus of Zen has always been toward engendering sensitivity and insight into the world itself, not the teachings of the Buddha per se, and certainly not the religious dogma of Mahayana."[xiv] Grigg’s point of view is valid, but it should also be understood for what it is, a privileged, academic view that represents a departure from the norms of Zen practice and culture.

Part VII

Zen is Buddhism.

Zen views itself as the inheritor of the "true dharma eye," the awakened consciousness of the original Buddha.

Zen believes in the Four Noble Truths

Zen holds to the belief that it is an efficacious method to release the self from the suffering that is caused by desire.

Zen adheres to the Eight Fold Path:

That there is a right view of the world, that right resolve is the way to approach it, that right speech is the way to speak of it, that right conduct leads us through it, that right livelihood sustains us, that right effort produces right results, that right mindfulness guide us, and that the path itself is held together by right "samadhi," meditation on the unity of all things.

Zen contends that its method is useful in the deliverance of people from the vicissitudes of life, and translating the individual to Nirvana.

Zen believes that the Buddha mind can be attained by an individual while within this life, and refers to this state of mind as satori.

Satori is the Zen counterpart of the mystical experience which, wherever it appears, in Zen or any other religion, brings joy, a feeling of oneness with all things and a heightened sense of reality which cannot be adequetly translated into the language of the everyday world. But whereas most religions regard such experiences as the acme of at least the earthly phase of man's religious quest, for Zen it is only the point of departure. In a very real sense, Zen training begins in earnest after the satori has been achieved. For one thing there must be further satoris as the trainee learns to move with greater range and freedom within this noumenal realm. But the important point is that Zen, drawing half its inspiration from the practical, common sense, this-worldly orientation of the Far East to balance the mystical other-worldly half it derived from India, refuses to let man's spirit withdraw-shall we say retreat?-into the mystical state completely. Once we achieve satori, we must get out of the sticky morass in which we have been floundering and return to the unfettered freedom of the open fields.[xv]

This is to say that a Zen master would have nothing to do, sitting alone on a mountain top with the experience of the ineffable. In order to give meaning to that experience it is necessary for the enlightened mind to share in the fruits of its discovery.

According to Zen these fruits are peace, and a release from suffering, not just for the individual practicing Zen, but potentially, and ultimately, for everybody.

The Zen "awakening" is not supposed to bring withdrawal from the world. It should rather, Zen claims, encourage participation, though never involvement in the egocentric variety that tends to produce the conflicts and breakdowns so common in modern life.[xvi]

The goal of Zen is to produce a sense of peace and oneness, not only for its active practitioners but for the rest of humanity, and indeed the entire living-breathing planet we live on.

Whether Zen is being practiced in a monastery, on a mountain top, or in the everyday life of everyday people, Zen affords those who engage its discipline, freedom from the confusion of paradox, the pain of conflicting desires, and the disorientation of feeling isolated and alone in a seemingly disparate, disconnected and circumscribed universe.

Zen sees all things as a unity in which any thing may manifest the reality of the whole, it views the whole as not being greater than the sum of its parts, indeed it views the whole as not even being greater than even its most minuscule part. Zen sees the perfect image of the whole contained within the part.

There is wisdom in Zen.

When its contemplative methods are dissociated from the particular institution of Buddhism the application is universal in scope, and reveals the essence of the “true dharma eye” that the original Buddha possessed.

All religions can benefit from the wisdom of Zen, to free them from the conflict that arise out of cultic ritual, and doctrinal investments, from particularism, tribalism, and wrenching demands of dogma.

The Perfect Way knows no difficulties
Except that it refuses to make preference
Only when freed from hate and love
It reveals itself fully and without disguise

A tenth of an inch's difference
And heaven and earth are set apart
If you want to see it manifest
Take no thoughts either for or against it

To set up what you like against what you dislike
That is the disease of the mind
When the deep meaning [of the way] is not understood
Peace of mind is disturbed and nothing is gained

[The Way] is perfect like unto vast space
With nothing wanting, nothing superfluous
It is indeed, do to making choices
That its suchness is lost sight of

When the mind rests supreme in the oneness of things
Dualism vanishes by itself
            
-beginning of the Hsin-hsin-ming by Seng-ts'an
            as translated by D. T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism, First Series


On Zen Buddhism



[i] The Training of A Zen Buddhist Monk, by D. T. Suzuki, page IX
[ii] Ibid., page X
[iii] Zen Buddhism: A History, by Heinrich Dumoulin, page 86
[iv] The Training of A Zen Buddhist Monk, by D. T. Suzuki, page 104
[v] Ibid., page 104
[vi] Zen Buddhism: A History, by Heinrich Dumoulin, page 140
[vii] Ibid., by Heinrich Dumoulin, page 101
[viii] Ibid., page 141
[ix] The Training of A Zen Buddhist Monk, by D. T. Suzuki, page 114
[x] Ibid., page 109
[xi] Being Peace, by Thich Naht Hanh, page 74
[xii] Ibid, page 46
[xiii] The Training of A Zen Buddhist Monk, by D. T. Suzuki, from the Chapter Titles
[xiv] The Tao of Zen, by Ray Grigg, page 134
[xv] The Religions of Man, by Huston Smith, page 149
[xvi] Three Ways of Asian Wisdom, by Nancy Wilson Ross, 148

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