Archive for the ‘Zen’ Tag

Zen Way of Liberation

Zen Buddhism is a way and a view of life which does not belong to any of the formal categories of modern Western thought. It is not religion or philosophy. It is not a psychology or a type of science. It is a way of liberation, and is similar in this respect to Taoism, Vedanta, and Yoga. A way of liberation can have no positive definition. It is suggested by saying what it is not, somewhat as a sculptor reveals an image by the act of removing pieces of stone from a block.

Zen is fulfillment of long traditions of Indian and Chinese culture. Furthermore, it is more Chinese than Indian. Since the twelfth century, it has rooted itself deeply and most creatively in the culture of Japan. As the fruition of these great cultures, and as a unique and peculiarly instructive example of a way of liberation, Zen is a precious gift of Asia to the world.

What is meant by a way of liberation? The difficulty and mystification of Zen to the westerners are the result of westerners unfamiliarity with Chinese ways of thinking; ways which differ startlingly from westerners. It is of special value to westerners in attaining a critical perspective upon westerners’ ideas. The problem here is not mastering different ideas, differing from Western World, say, the theories of Kant differ from those of Descartes, or those of Calvinists from those of Catholics. The problem is to appreciate differences from those of Catholics. The problem is to appreciate differences in the basic premises of thought and in the very methods of thinking. These often overlooked Western World’s interpretations of Chinese philosophy is a projection of characteristically Western Ideas into Chinese terminology. This is the inevitable disadvantage of studying Asian philosophy by the purely literary methods of Western scholarship, for words can be communicative only between those who share similar experiences.

This is not to go so far as to say that so rich and subtle a language as English is simply incapable of expressing Chinese ideas. The difficulty is not in the language, but in the thought-patterns which have hitherto seemed inseparable from the academic and scientific way of approaching a subject. The unsuitability of these patterns for such subjects as Zen is largely responsible for the impression that the oriental mind is mysterious, irrational, and inscrutable. Furthermore, it need not be supposed that these matters are so noticeably Japanese that they have no point of contact with anything in Western Culture. It is true that none of the formal divisions of Western Science and thought corresponds to a way of liberation. The study of Zen in English Literature has shown clearly that the essential insights of Zen are universal.

The reason why Zen presents, at first sight, such a puzzle to the westerners is that Western Mind has taken a restricted view of human knowledge. For westerners, almost all knowledge is what a Taoist would call conventional knowledge, because westerners do not feel that they really know anything unless it can be represented to them in words, or in some other system of conventional signs such as the notations of mathematics or music. Such knowledge is called conventional because it is a matter of social agreement as to the codes of communication. Just as people speaking the same language have tacit agreements as to what words shall stand for what things, so the members of every society and every culture are united by bonds of communication resting on all kinds of agreement as to the classification and valuation of actions and things.



That Was Then, This Is Now

Both Zen and Taoism lead to same place. The methods for getting there are quite different. It is like two roads leading to the same destination, but definitely they are two different roads.

The idea that Taoism and Chan were cross-fertilized is a typical modern misunderstanding, and one that is usually perpetuated by Western Scholars; not Chan masters. Taoism and Chan have separate histories. In the development of Chan in China, none of the six patriarchs had any influence from Taoism.

One needs to look at the priests of Taoism and Zen to see the differences. Zen monks shave their head, are vegetarian, avoid wine and intoxication, value the Heart Sutra, and practice celibacy. Taoist priests generally have a full head of hair, drink wine, value the Dao De Jing, and are permitted to have wives and sex.

We can have a look at their meditation techniques. In Zen, practitioners keep their mind on the void. In Taoism, visualization is used extensively in meditation. From a Zen perspective, these visualizations are considered a deviation because they cause thoughts to arise, which conflict sharply with Zen teachings, but not with Taoist teachings.

Chan talks about no mind and Taoism talks about the extreme void. To a Western ear, these terms may sound similar, but upon deep scrutiny, they are different. Both terms refer to “Cosmic Reality” and are thus similar. But this does not point to a link between Taoism and Chan; it points to a link between all of the world’s religions, all of which point to the concept of this “Cosmic Reality.”

Bodhidharma’s teachings are not recorded in language and words. Bodhidharma teaches transmission beyond the tradition. Bodhidharma points at the mind. Bodhidharma propose entering Buddhahood in an instant. These concepts are different from Sarvastivada, which is essentially a Hinayana school teaching. Bodhidharma’s teachings are a reaction against Sarvastivada teachings, not a continuation of Sarvastivada teachings.

As for Zen Buddhism being different today than it was in the past depends on where we look, just as it does with Kungfu. If we look at modern Shaolin Wushu, we might say that Kungfu is different today than it was practiced in the past. But if we look at genuine Kungfu schools, we might say that it is very much the same.

Posted April 28, 2013 by dranilj1 in Art of Living

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Buddha Within

Buddhist makes a distinction between what is called Big Mind, or Natural Mind, and "small mind," or ordinary, deluded mind. Big Mind is the essential nature of mind itself. This is what we call Buddha-nature, or natural mind. This is human true nature – the pure boundless awareness that is at the heart, and part, of us all.

Natural Mind is still, clear, lucid, empty, profound, simple or uncomplicated, and at peace. It is the luminous, most fundamental clear light nature of our ground of being. This is the heart of enlightenment, the Buddha within – the perfect presence that we can all rely on. Waking up to this Natural Mind, this Buddha-nature, is what meditation is all about.

World is Compilation of Processes than of Units


Processes than of Units.

The reason why Taoism and Zen present, at first sight, such a puzzle to the Western mind is that westerners have taken a restricted view of human knowledge. For westerners, almost all knowledge is what a Taoist would call conventional knowledge, because they do not feel that they really know anything unless something represents to them in words, or in some other system of conventional signs such as the or notations of mathematics music. Such knowledge is called conventional because it is a matter of social agreement as to the codes of communication. Just as people speaking the same language have unspoken agreements as to what words shall stand for what things, so the members of every society and every culture are united by bonds of communication resting upon all kinds of agreement as to the classification and valuation of actions and things.

Thus the task of education is to make children fit to live in a society by persuading them to learn and accept its codes, the rules and conventions of communication whereby the society holds itself together. There is first the spoken language. The child is taught to accept “tree” and not “boojum” as the agreed sign for that (pointing to the object). Westerners have no difficulty in understanding that the word “tree” is a matter of convention. What is much less obvious is that convention also governs the delineation of the thing to which the word is assigned. For the child has to be taught not only what words are to stand for what things, but also the way in which his culture has tacitly agreed to divide things from each other, to mark out the boundaries within daily experience. Thus scientific convention decides whether an eel shall be a fish or a snake, and grammatical convention determines what experiences shall be called objects and what shall be called events or actions. How arbitrary such conventions may be can be seen from the question, “What happens to my fist (noun-object) when I open my hand?” The object miraculously vanishes because an action was disguised by a part of speech usually assigned to a thing! In English the differences between things and actions are clearly, if not always logically, distinguished, but a great number of Chinese words do duty for both nouns and verbs; so that one who thinks in Chinese has little difficulty in seeing that objects are also events, that our world is a collection of processes rather than entities.

Besides language, the child has to accept many other forms of code. For the necessities of living together require agreement as to codes of law and ethics, of etiquette and art, of weights, measures, and numbers, and, above all, of role. We will have difficulty in communicating with each other unless we can identify ourselves in terms of roles; father, teacher, worker, artist, regular guy, gentleman, sportsman, and so forth. To the extent that we identify ourselves with these stereotypes and the rules of behavior associated with them, we ourselves feel that we are someone because our fellows have less difficulty in accepting us-that is, in identifying us and feeling that we are under control. A meeting of two strangers at a party is always somewhat embarrassing when the host has not identified their roles in introducing them, for neither knows what rules of conversation and action should be observed. Once again, it is easy to see the conventional character of roles. For a man who is a father may also be a doctor and an artist, as well as an employee and a brother. It is obvious that even the sum total of these role labels will be far from supplying an adequate description of the man himself, even though it may place him in certain general classifications; but the conventions which govern human identity are more subtle and much less obvious than these. We learn, very thoroughly though far less explicitly, to identify ourselves with an equally conventional view of “myself.” For the conventional “self” or “person” is composed mainly of a history consisting of selected memories, and beginning from the moment of parturition. According to convention, I am not simply what I am doing now. I am also what I have done, and my conventionally edited version of my past is made to seem almost more the real “me” than what I am at this moment; for what I am seems so fleeting and intangible, but what I was is fixed and final. It is the firm basis for predictions of what I will be in the future, and so it comes about that I am more closely identified with what no longer exists than with what actually is!

It is also important to recognize that the memories and past events which make up a man’s historical identity are no more than a selection. From the actual infinitude of events and experiences some have been picked out and abstracted as significant, and this significance has of course been determined by conventional standards as the very nature of conventional knowledge is that it is a system of abstractions. It consists of signs and symbols in which things and events are reduced to their general outlines, as the Chinese character ‘jen’ stands for “man” by being the utmost simplification and generalization of the human form. The same is true of words other than ideographs. The English words “man,” “fish,” “star,” “flower,” “run,” “grow,” all denote classes of objects or events which may be recognized as members of classes of objects or events which may be recognized as members of their class by very simple attributes, abstracted from the total complexity of the things themselves.

Abstraction is thus almost a necessity for communication, since it enables us to represent our experiences with simple and rapidly made grasps of the mind. When we say that we can think only of one thing at a time, this is like saying that the Pacific Ocean cannot be swallowed at a gulp. It has to be taken in a cup, and downed bit by bit. Abstractions and conventional signs are like the cup; they reduce experience to units simple enough to be comprehended one at a time. In a similar way, curves are measured by reducing them to a sequence of tiny straight lines, or by thinking of them in terms of the squares which they cross when plotted on graph paper. Other examples of the same process are the newspaper photograph and the transmission of television. In the former, a natural scene is reproduced in terms of light and heavy dots arranged in a screen or grid-like pattern so as to give the general impression of a black-and-white photograph when seen without a magnifying glass. Much as it may look like the original scene, it is only a reconstruction of the scene in terms of dots, somewhat as our conventional words and thoughts are reconstructions of experience in terms of abstract signs. Even more like the thought process, the television camera transmits a natural scene in terms of a linear series of impulses which may be passed along a wire. Thus communication by conventional signs of this type gives us an abstract, one-at-a-time translation of a universe in which things are happening altogether-at-once–a universe whose concrete reality always escapes perfect description in these abstract terms. The perfect description of a small particle of dust by these means would take everlasting time, since one would have to account for every point in its volume.

Where We Go In Zazen Practice


In zazen practice, we might have set out with various ideas but now are just practicing, having forgotten why we came. That may be a good thing – just doing it – but practice may also have become a kind of unconscious habit; we’re just going along with the routine because that’s what we do. For Zen practitioners, it may be helpful sometimes to stop and reflect: What is this path really all about? What is growth on the path, deepening of practice, spiritual evolution? Asking such questions could arouse thoughts of self-judgment or self-centered striving, or a stronger selfless aspiration to live in accord with truth for the benefit of all.

Three qualities of mind, and three practices, deepen as practice deepens: renunciation, compassion, and devotion. Most spiritual traditions have many classic forms of renunciation, basically limiting or restricting the things we tend to habitually hold on to, such as comfort, food, sleep, sex, entertainment, possessions, choice, and control. Such renunciations are very similar in most traditions, and those classic forms can be really helpful at different phases in our practice, depending on what we’re especially caught up in, which things pull us out of our present experience of contentment. Another less intimidating name for renunciation is simply “letting go.” Letting go might take those traditional forms, or it might even take opposite forms.

Zazen practice is like we can do them in order to look like or feel like we’re renouncing something, but actually we are building up a sense of self or identity; though actually the whole purpose of renunciation practice is to let go of a strong sense of self and its supposed needs, if we are not paying attention, such practice can have the opposite effect. So over time it becomes a kind of renunciation practice to let go of some of those classic renunciation practices. This is kind of a tricky business because renunciation practice is never static. It’s a constant balance. The middle way is very elusive – we let go of something and then we get attached to “letting go,” so we let go of that way and we think we won’t fall back into our old habits because we’ve already let them go. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work quite that way! In fact it’s very easy, after really having let go of something, to then get a little lazy. Suddenly we notice, there it is again; the habit has redeveloped itself.

In the end, letting go comes down to being present and aware of what we’re holding onto, and releasing our grip in that moment. Zazen is like an all-encompassing renunciation practice. Since we emphasize a particular upright posture, if we sit still long enough we’ll find some holding on; one has to let go of the wish to move or to do something more interesting. It’s renunciation to just patiently let go of those urges to move or do something else. To do this may seem like a small thing, especially for people who’ve been doing it for awhile, but it’s actually profound to just sit still and let go, not only of moving physically, but also mentally. Zazen is letting go of moving, letting go of thoughts about past and future, and ultimately letting go of all conceptual elaboration, and this is an endless lifetime practice. Nobody finishes zazen practice, ever! In Zen they say “practice and realization are not two.” We don’t do practice over here, and then have realization over there. Renunciation is a moment-to-moment practice of letting go, and a moment-to-moment realization of the freedom of having let go, a process that we can check on to see how it’s going. Do we have any deeply held habit patterns that for many years the practice hasn’t seemed to reach? We probably do, and they present the place to practice, the very place to let go, whatever the habit is – whether its impatience or conceptual thinking.

Another practice and quality of mind to develop, closely related to renunciation, is compassion. Compassion is bringing in the element of other living beings, opening our hearts to others. In Buddha-Dharma, compassion is defined as the wish or desires that living beings be free from suffering and discontent, and the willingness to help however we can. Since we are living beings, we can have compassion for ourselves as well as others, and again the practice and realization of compassion are not two. We can cultivate it and develop it, and the way we do that is quite related to renunciation. By just letting go of our own habitual holdings, letting go of our own self-concern as well as our resistance to experiencing our own discontent, our compassionate heart naturally starts opening to others more and more, is able to relate to others’ pain more intimately, and naturally wants everyone to be free.

One important connection between renunciation and compassion is to see that letting go is freedom and ease. If we want others to be free from suffering, what do we really want for them? How are they going to be free from discontent? Though we can give them food if they’re hungry or help in other ways, to be completely relieved they actually have to let go. So we could say that compassion is actually the wish for others to renounce. This is one way the two practices are very connected. If we want to have com­plete compassion for others, if we want them to be completely free from discontent, then we wish for them to be able to let go of whatever they are holding on to so that they can be free. If we want that realization for others, but then hold onto our own fixations, that’s a little funny, isn’t it? So in order to fully practice compassion, we have to continuously let go of our own self-cherishing, not only in order to be open to others, but also to verify our trust that letting go is freedom from discontent. The more we verify that for ourselves, the more sincerely we can wish for others also to be able to let go. In this way, renunciation and compassion are the same mind – renunciation arises from contemplating one’s own discontent, and compassion arises from contemplating others’ discontent.

A third practice and quality of mind to develop is devotion to Buddha. The Buddha is the historical teacher who set the wheel of Dharma in motion – who first taught the path to complete liberation – as well as all Buddhas throughout space and time who have fully developed renunciation, compassion, and devotion. Buddha is unhindered effortless complete practice and realization of awakening for the benefit of us all. We can think of Buddha as a particular person or people, or we can think of Buddha as Buddha Nature itself, which is inconceivably permeating all of us, all the time. Buddha is our true nature, which is already fully let go, fully compassionate, and fully devoted. We can be devoted to this inconceivable all-pervading spontaneously present Buddha Nature that we seem to be temporarily obscuring with our conceptual thinking, habitual self-cherishing, and doubts. Though we feel as if we’re not quite in touch with Buddha, through hearing about Buddha Nature, contemplating it, and opening to it more and more, we begin to trust more and more that the sun behind the clouds is always shining, and that experiencing its light and warmth is just a matter of renouncing our fixation on the clouds. Part of letting go of grasping the clouds is opening the heart of compassion, and both of these are fueled by the practice and realization of devotion to Buddha. We can also be devoted to the practices of letting go and compassion. We can walk down the street with the intention to be totally devoted to walking without thinking of doing something else, devoted to everybody that we pass on the street as expressions of Buddha Nature who also may seem to be not quite content, and devoted to offering each foot­step we take to Buddha.

Small Shift Huge Effect


I am recalling a story that I once read about a woman who goes into a cafe one morning to have a cup of coffee. She’s glad that she brought her bag of cookies along with her. She gets a newspaper, sits down, and starts enjoying the morning by reading the paper, picking up a cookie and eating it, having a sip of coffee. There’s a guy at the counter next to her doing the same thing: having a cup of coffee, reading the paper. He reaches over and takes one of her cookies out of the bag, and she thinks, “That’s kind of strange—he didn’t even ask.” She takes another cookie, and soon he takes another cookie too. They don’t say anything to each other; they just keep reading their papers. Now she’s getting kind of annoyed because she really wanted to enjoy her bag of cookies, but every time she takes one, he also takes one shortly afterwards. She was getting more and more annoyed; she can’t believe he doesn’t even say anything. She can’t say anything at this point either; it’s actually become too weird. Finally it gets down to only one cookie left, and he quite casually, while still not looking up from his newspaper, breaks the cookie in half, eats half, and gently pushes the remaining half toward her. She’s totally enraged at this point and can’t believe somebody could do such a thing. She eats the remaining half cookie, finishes her coffee, throws down the newspaper and leaves the cafe. She gets in her car, reaches in her purse for her glasses, and there’s a bag of cookies there. The same kind she was just eating, in an unopened bag! She’s stunned. Her angry mind totally dissolves and she feels completely silly that, not only was she getting upset about this guy eating her cookies, but she was eating his cookies and he was even so kind as to split the last one with her!

This is a kind of elementary “mind-only” story. It demonstrates the basic principle that what we think is going on is not really what’s going on, that what appears to be happening is only our own mind’s creation. The actual situation is quite different, even though we are completely convinced it is the way we think it is. We are so convinced that we don’t even bother to question it; we just assume it is so and yet our normal, unquestioned sense of reality is seldom—we could even say never—what we think it is. So this simple story is about how believing what we think leads to suffering.

The mind-only goes even further. It presents the view that not only were those not really her cookies, but also that they were not his cookies either. In fact they were not really cookies at all. Or to say it from the mind-only point of view, cookies as they are experienced, which is the only way we can ever possibly know about them do not exist external to mind. They are a mental fabrication, constructed by mind out of mind-made color, smell, taste, touch, and concepts. Everything we experience, whether conceptual thoughts or direct sensory perceptions, is a manifestation of mind. This theme runs throughout Buddha’s teachings, but it’s highlighted and emphasized by the mind-only school, which was one of the major traditions out of which Zen emerged. As Dogen Zenji says, “Mountains, rivers, and earth, the sun, moon, and stars are mind.”

The practice is about not believing our stories about what is happening, and the mind-only teachings get into very, very subtle stories, stories we don’t even notice we are telling ourselves, stories like, “This piece of paper I’m looking at actually exists apart from my mind, external to my mind.” When we hear about not believing in very subtle stories like this, we might think, “So what does this have to do with my day-to-day suffering and problems? To say that the paper is not even apart from mind – why bother with this level of investigation of experience?” If we can really start to open to the way that all our thoughts and even sense perceptions of the world are distorted by this basic duality that the mind creates, the duality of what the mind-only calls the separation of “grasper and grasped,” that kind of understanding can apply to all our problems. Even though it may be quite challenging to do so, if we could realize that everything we experience is only a manifestation of mind, and thereby stop believing in an essential separation of the experiencer from what is experienced as an external world, then all of our basic, run-of-the-mill, day-to-day problems could be seen in a very different light. We would not be able to take so seriously the grasping of something that is actually not separate from the grasper, something that is merely a mental creation. Grasping or clinging to an idea, belief, or object that we think is real is the definition of suffering in Buddha’s teaching.

When we hear of the mind-only view we might think, “Well, if there’s really nothing out there apart from mind, then there really are no suffering beings.” It might feel like this kind of view is undermining compassion, and undermining our helpfulness in the world, because if the world is not apart from mind, if it’s really mind-only, why would we care about how it goes? In a dream, why does it matter what happens, if we know it’s just a dream? I think it’s important to keep looking at these questions and examine them from different angles. For one thing, if what we experience as “other” beings is really not separate from this mind, and the same is true of their experience of us, this experience is incredibly intimate. We are literally creating each other each moment, in a very dynamic and totally personal way. What could be more intimate? Opening to such intimacy of mind-only, we may feel a deep love for “others” and the strong wish for them to be free. Also, if everything we experience really is just like a dream, a mind-made creation for each of us, then when we see others appearing to suffer in this dream, we can deduce that it’s because they are taking the dream too seriously; they are reifying it as something existing independent of mind; they are thinking it’s not just a dream. Suffering beings, like us, are taking the dream too seriously. Therefore our motivation can become stronger to help dream beings become free from believing the dream that they’re in. Our wholehearted compassion and wish for others to be free from suffering is based on the inspiration that actually situations are workable, people really can be helped and people can actually be free from suffering. Even the worst situations no longer seem completely hopeless.

Our aspiration to help can be strengthened because we can see that the suffering of the world is just a hairbreadth’s deviation from freedom and joy, just the difference of this shift of vision. If every­one could see the kind of dream-like quality of our experience, and how we attribute reality to the dream, then we could be completely freed on the spot. There is such potential. It may be quite difficult to realize, but the beauty is that it’s a small shift with a huge effect. One teacher says that our basic delusion is “like stepping onto the wrong airplane.” It’s like there are two different gates to two different airplanes next to each other in the same airport; stepping onto this one is not that far from stepping onto that one. But the result is huge, because this airplane is going to Africa and that one’s going to Australia. A very small misstep creates a huge, huge difference. The more we’re open to this potential shift, the more we can see that everybody has this same potential, and the more it seems that this little step has the potential to quite literally save the world from suffering. Buddha’s great compassion is expressed as helping all beings, including ourselves, to shift our vision and to see the world differently. An essential part of such a process is to first meet so-called “others” with sincere kindness and to wholeheartedly try to take care of the problems of what appears to be an external world, so that people will feel basically comfortable, at least settled enough to start looking into how this mind creates suffering.

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