Buddhist Superstition is Just As Much Bullshit As Any Other Kind of Superstition

Recently someone sent me the following email:

I have a question – what’s your impression of The New Kadampa Tradition and the practise of “worshiping” or “venerating”  Dorje Shugden? Is this all hogwash, or is there something of value in Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s teaching or is he just another charlatan?

I replied:

I’ve heard the name New Kadampa but know absolutely nothing about it. It’s something Tibetan, I guess. I have no idea who or what Dorje Shugden is or was. “Worshiping” and “venerating” are words that make me a little nervous.

He sent the following back to me:

Thanks for replying, it’s appreciated.  I’ve done some digging and it seems that Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is regarded by the NKT followers as the “one true Buddha alive today” and his teachings (and only HIS teachings) are not to be questioned, lest ye be banished (seriously).  Other teachings are “deceptive and evil” including the teachings of the Dalai Lama, it seems, who Gyatso openly opposes.  Opinions of the Dorje Shugden thing seems to vary from him/it being incarnated in the 17th Century and is a “Dharma Protector” or even a “demon” – there is even an NKT Survivors forum on Yahoo, so I think I’ll steer clear of the whole shebang, as consensus seems to indicate that the NKT should be regarded alongside the likes of the “Dark Zen” crowd.  Ugh.

To which I said:

OH RIGHT! THAT STUFF! I’d forgotten about it. Stephen Batchelor mentions it in his latest book. Yeah. That’s all superstitious nonsense. I don’t know why anybody believes that garbage. It’s like thinking the Earth was created 6000 years ago and that dinosaurs died out in the Great Flood. There is no difference at all in those kinds of beliefs. They’re all 100% arbitrary products of human imagination.

I am so not interested in this stuff that I had totally blanked out on what the names Dorje Shugden and New Kadampa Tradition meant even though I read the story just a few months earlier. In my mind it was all lumped in under the category of “Superstitious Nonsense That I Don’t Need to Bother With.” If you want to read something truly moronic about this subject, go to http://www.dorjeshugden.org/. Anyhow, there’s Dorje’s picture up on top of this post. He’s wearing a fireman helmet.

There are some fictional stories I know very well, that I find interesting and that I continue to follow from time to time. I know the difference between Captain Kirk (cool) and Captain Picard (often cool in his own way, but not as cool as Kirk). I know why Hayata can use the Beta Capsule to transform into Ultraman. I know what Tatooine is and what the Death Star is.

I know some of the religious fictions that are part of my culture. I know that Noah built the Ark, that Moses brought the tablets down from Mt. Sinai, that Jesus died and rose again on the Third Day. I don’t actually believe any of this stuff. But it’s useful to know the stories. I know the major fictions of a few other religions. I know that Krishna could fuck a million girls all at once and I know why one of Ganesh’s tusks is broken (he broke it off and used it as a pen to write the Vedas). I know the basic story of Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him, not that any of that is fiction, of course, please don’t kill me).

I know most of the fictions that Zen people find comforting. I know that Bodhidharma stared at a wall until his arms and legs fell off. But I don’t believe that actually occurred. I know that Buddha supposedly confirmed Mahakashapa’s enlightenment and that this has been passed on in an unbroken succession for 2500 years. I don’t think that really happened either. But I led the congregation in chanting the list of names of the men and women who got it a few times last month in Tassajara.

But if I tried to memorize everybody’s superstitions, I’d never get to the end of it. In the final analysis, superstition is superstition, whether it’s Buddhist superstition or anyone else’s superstition. I can find no more compelling reason to believe in some spiritual entity named Dorje Shugden than to believe in Zeus or Apollo. It’s silly and useless. In fact it’s more useless to study Dorje Shugden than to study Zeus and Apollo because so few people give a shit about Dorje Shugden. At least if you know about Zeus and Apollo there is always a chance that knowing a bit about classical literature might get you laid by some cute librarian in a pair of horn-rimmed glasses and a turtleneck sweater. Will knowing about Dorje Shugden get me laid? Not likely. Or if it did, I would really have to go out of my way to find a girl who cared. So that’s the end of my study.

For reasons that are difficult for me to fathom, though, a lot of people who ought to know better seem to think that exotic superstitions might be more true than the plain old superstitions we’re familiar with. But why bother? If you’re thinking about putting your faith in Dorje Shugden, why not just make life simpler and put your faith in the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny? At least you know those superstitions already. There’s not so much need to study up on them. Santa Claus is a good one to believe in because he might bring you stuff. Personally I have way more faith in Santa Claus than in any supposed Buddhist “guardian spirit.”

***

PS I’m having trouble accessing my bw@hardcorezen.info email. If anyone is awaiting a response to something set there, I’ll get to you as soon as I can figure out how to access that account.

***

Help Brad get back his faith in superstition with a donation.

88 Responses

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  1. Angrycity
    Angrycity October 3, 2012 at 2:32 pm | |

    Brad,
    David here from Sacramento.
    The NKT and the Dorje Shugden crowd are the folks i first found buddhism in, they are nice and sweet folks ,but yes this practice..along with devoting yourself to someone else seems anti-buddhism…at least for me. Fascinating that you wrote about it, it sounds goofy all around when people talk about this stuff in public also!

    1. Anonymous
      Anonymous October 3, 2012 at 3:38 pm | |

      I’ve heard that the NKT always find white people to be the face of their organization here in the U.S. and in western Europe. Sort of like it’s a tactic or something. Does this comport with your experience, Angrycity?

  2. blake
    blake October 3, 2012 at 2:39 pm | |

    Let’s assume that all of these superstitions are true and there are countless spiritual beings dancing around. What then? What changes? Not a damn thing. So much easier to just put them down, don’t you think?

    1. rae
      rae October 3, 2012 at 3:57 pm | |

      I agree. Whether or not that stuff exists, it does not really change a thing.

  3. Fred
    Fred October 3, 2012 at 2:49 pm | |

    There’s too much crap going on in Tibetan Buddhism, and not enough dropping
    of the body-mind.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous October 3, 2012 at 3:36 pm | |

    You can read all about much of this in Stephen Batchelor’s Buddhist Atheist book.

    I have a friend who is fairly prominent in Western scholar/Tibetan Buddhist/travel-to Dharamsala-to-hang-with-Dalai-Lama-and-company circles and she swears that the NKT is a dangerous cult.

    I got no problems with the Tibetans and their gods and curses and horoscopes and whatnot. I don’t give a shit. I wish them well.

    What’s this with commenting on crap like this? I use “crap” here in the same way I’d use “stuff” or “irrelevant matters.”

  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous October 3, 2012 at 4:35 pm | |

    What the hell? Did you edit your post? I swear to Ratnasambhava that I didn’t see your reference to Stephen Batchelor or his book when I wrote my comment.

  6. A-Bob
    A-Bob October 3, 2012 at 5:28 pm | |

    “Superstition ain’t the way”.. Sorry Jinzang

  7. chasrmartin
    chasrmartin October 3, 2012 at 5:43 pm | |

    If you do find the special knowledge that will get you laid with that librarian chick, let me know. she sounds hot.

  8. Fred
    Fred October 3, 2012 at 6:09 pm | |

    What is enlightenment but the realization that there is no fixed agent that exists
    in the present or the future.

    As there is no one here, there is no karma or rebirth
    necessary to transform and mold a future being.

    Batchelor may reject superstition, karma and rebirth for different reasons, but
    how does clinging to conceptual dogma bring freedom from the known.

    It doesn’t . The fundamental point is actualized when the universe realizes itself.
    Is that dogma? No, direct seeing.

    That is all that a teacher might bring to the world

  9. Fred
    Fred October 3, 2012 at 6:12 pm | |

    Dogen had it right.

  10. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 3, 2012 at 10:02 pm | |

    “freedom from the known”. Deliverance from thought without grasping. Right knowledge and right freedom, the ninth and tenth parts of the path (for the adept).

    Practice is enlightenment, practice that is the same before and after enlightenment.

    an ability to feel that corresponds to vestibular location as necessary to the length of the inhalation or exhalation of the moment; as the breath is drawn from infinite ether into the tan-t’ien, it can have no length; as the breath is exhaled from the tan-t’ien to the infinite ether, it can have no length.

  11. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 3, 2012 at 10:05 pm | |

    gird your loins,
    “make an image in the place of image, then shall ye enter…”

  12. Buddha Shaman
    Buddha Shaman October 4, 2012 at 12:21 am | |

    NKT is a cult. There was a very balanced BBC documentary about them on the BBC a while back that you can find on YouTube that is worth watching. Gyatso is on there quite a bit being interviewed and Batchelor is on there too.
    I wrote a review on Amazon of the ridiculously titled ‘Modern Buddhism’, a recent offering by their glorious leader Kim Yun…oops, I meant Gyatso. NKT Buddhism is modern, but only in that it has mastered western market forces by making itself wealthy through intense self-promotion, selling images of happy smiley white, middle-class folk being blissfully happy through NKT Booddism, the hard sell and false, empty promises.
    I waited patiently for the mindless drones to start attacking as they tend to do online and tho and behold they did with my Amazon review getting some odd comments. They spill cult-like nonsense about how bad and evil anger is and that anyone who criticizes NKT is accumulating bad karma and must be angry all the time and be sleeping with the Dalai Lama and that their wise, glorious leader is all-knowing in a forced dichotomy of us and the rest of you. They’re quite absurd.
    Gyatso and his followers teach monastic, mainstream Tibetan Gelupa Buddhism in a sort of paint-by-numbers formula with total devotion through the guru-yoga set up to Gyatso himself. They ordain folk after being in the organization for a very short period and then send them out to proselytize like the scientologists do. In fact I have always found the scientologists fascinating and consider the NKT to be quite similar.
    The person in your blog post was right in his remarks about Gyatso being considered the next Buddha by followers and their teachings being the only ones that are pure and that come directly from the Buddha (note my extended yawn). There’s a wonderful moment int he BBC doc when the interviewer raises the point about his devotees naming him as the next Buddha. He smiles, chuckles and says, ‘Good, it’s very good that they see me that way.’ Priceless!
    The whole set up is absurd, but they have managed to turn themselves into quite the money making organization and their insular, sectarian behavior unfortunately convinces people that their dribble is truth.
    Stay very far away from them unless you happen to be conducting a sociological study of cults and weird, happy smiley folk who are unable to think for themselves.

  13. boubi
    boubi October 4, 2012 at 4:25 am | |

    Could you give the link to youtube?

    The more and more i get acquainted with the dharma rogues the more i like Mr. Wiener.

    He is honest, sweet and worried about not hurting other people, BUT, in future reincarnations, he will most probably go to some cubicle office hell , or worse in the elbonian swamps* , because of his liking of nerdees instead of lively, fullbodied , juicy, laughing-prone, latino ladies.

    I like you Brad. Just find a job as you teacher told you. The world needs you.

    *Dilbert’s universe

    1. Buddha Shaman
      Buddha Shaman October 13, 2012 at 7:44 am | |

      http://youtu.be/zp0N72-uv58

      Here’s the BBC link. Enjoy. Pay close attention to the eyes of his chief follower….scary zombie stuff :)

  14. Andy
    Andy October 4, 2012 at 5:27 am | |

    @Fred

    “how does clinging to conceptual dogma bring freedom from the known.

    It doesn’t . The fundamental point is actualized when the universe realizes itself.
    Is that dogma? No, direct seeing.”

    Your persistent use of the same borrowed phrases seems very dogmatic to me Fred. How is this not also clinging to conceptual dogma’?

  15. wiggle87
    wiggle87 October 4, 2012 at 6:13 am | |

    The most interesting aspect of the NKT is the choices they have made to make it more acceptable to ‘Westerners’. The superstitions of Tibetan mythology have stayed and miracles of the Buddha treated literally, from what I can understand. Meditation, however, seems to have been dumbed down to 10 minute relaxation sessions sat on seats. There is therefore an unfortunate parallel with Scientology made worse as the books that are studied in NKT centres are all written by the same bloke. They’re also completely loopy!

  16. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel October 4, 2012 at 6:45 am | |

    Boubi
    I’m not sure that calling Brad “Monsieur Saucisse” is really that nice…

  17. Jules
    Jules October 4, 2012 at 6:58 am | |

    “(Peace Be Upon Him, not that any of that is fiction, of course, please don’t kill me).”

    It is difficult to type while laughing out loud

  18. sri_barence
    sri_barence October 4, 2012 at 8:12 am | |

    I want to start my own cult now! Can I, please? Who wants to join?

  19. KadampaKev
    KadampaKev October 4, 2012 at 8:37 am | |

    I’m a practitioner in the New Kadampa Tradition and I came across this article in a Google Search on ‘New Kadampa’. There are a lot of negative and inaccurate comments here about Kadampa Buddhism and its beliefs.

    Personally, I can’t understand the point of this article. It’s got nothing to do with Zen Buddhism, so how is even justifiable to write such a piece in the first place? Why are you criticizing another Buddhist tradition? Surely the only result of writing this is that it encourages negative and critical attitudes and misinformation – how does that help the practice of Buddha’s teachings?

    If you want to know if Geshe Kelsang is a charlatan you should read ‘Modern Buddhism’ and make up your own mind about the teaching, or better still, just practice your own tradition purely. Respectfully, I think we should stick to the practice of our own tradition and try not the criticize other traditions just because we don’t understand them. There’s enough confusion in this world without adding to it.

    1. Buddha Shaman
      Buddha Shaman October 13, 2012 at 7:48 am | |

      Yawwwn. You guys found your way here too.

    2. Buddha Shaman
      Buddha Shaman October 13, 2012 at 7:56 am | |

      Uncritical communication is what allows cult like organizations to exist in the fist place and build themselves up into institutions that won’t tolerate dissent. The numerous criticisms that are thrown at the NKT are simply brushed aside as anti-religious, non-spiritual, worldly nastiness, instead of as the application of intelligent concern about insider blindness that they so often constitute. Critical thought is one of the greatest facets of the western intellectual tradition and mindless Buddhist zombies would do well to develop some ability and skill in it.
      The Buddha’s (I mean the historical chap, not your fella) teachings are actually fairly absent from Kelsang’s books, especially the forms of meditation that the Buddha would have most likely practiced. Wiggle87′s comments are accurate, sitting at the NKT is reduced to ritual with very little attention given to generating concentration and insight. Chanting and more chanting and contemplation of concepts is the central practice of the NKT, of course, after Guru worship.

  20. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 4, 2012 at 9:03 am | |

    Proulx Michel, I thought that was one of her best posts, and the sausage reference caught me totally by surprise, made me laugh!

  21. Fred
    Fred October 4, 2012 at 9:57 am | |

    Add something to the conversation Andy. Counterpunching is a valuable asset
    for a boxer.

  22. boubi
    boubi October 4, 2012 at 10:36 am | |

    OK

    Brad, i’m sorry, take it as some juvenile* good humored innocent prank, call me whatever you want, i won’t take any offense said from you.

    I restrained myself since the very first post … with Brad sounding as some other variety.

    Beyond me being a jerk (of the benign kind) , i think you stroke, in the course of your articles, a very central point of “evolution” of dharma.

    If teaching stopped being a “make a living” activity, if it became some kind of laic activity, loosing its parafernalias of ceremonies, trappings, mysteries to become like teaching little league … it could become more dharma, if you allow me to say it.

    It seems to me that you are on this path … it’s confused, because it just occured to me today, so i didn’t had time to elaborate, but i got the impression that what you wrote in the “teaching teachers” article could be the beginning of it.

    So sorry again, i like you very much (maybe not always agreeing), but it’s a kind of humor we used among friends.

    Sumimasen !

    *With some 40 years delay … :)

  23. Andy
    Andy October 4, 2012 at 11:19 am | |

    @Fred

    Sorry to have ruffled your feathers Fred. It was a genuine question, and questions are additions to conversation, as you know. Maybe my use of ‘persistent’ gave you the impression I was irritated and wanted to pick a fight.

    So let me rephrase.

    Your repeated use of the same borrowed phrases and terms in categorical statements appears to me to be an instance of what we mean by ‘dogma’. I’m not having a go at you by saying ‘borrowed’ – this is a statement of fact. These statements and assertions include concepts.

    You seem very certain about the contrast you were making: “No, direct seeing.” This certainty left me perplexed and interested, and not at all wishing to indulge in some form wind-up.

    If your certainty is indeed grounded on ‘direct seeing’, as your assertion suggests, I would have liked to have had my intellectual ‘eyes’ opened to something I don’t understand.

    I wanted for you to explain. Depending on your explanation, I was hoping to explore how original understanding and insight can over time turn into either things like ‘dogma’ and ‘superstition’ etc, or be maintained despite the repetition of their forms by others.

    Your response might have cleared things up. As it is I’m starting think that your version of adding to a conversation is by making categorical assertions that aren’t open to investigation or sincere dialogue.

    And of course, your common mode of responding to others’ assertions or view points is through often making categorical statements that implicitly challenge or throw the odd jab (to extend your metaphor); so it appears somewhat hypocritical to get so prickly – and perhaps defensive.

    If you think I’m targeting you personally, please let me know, and I’ll try and resist opening up a dialogue with you in the future. I’ve questioned and disagreed with things you have written before out of interest and the enjoyment of conversation. If someone’s style of address irritates me, I try not to let that get in the way of exploring the issues.

  24. Fred
    Fred October 4, 2012 at 11:25 am | |

    “Surely the only result of writing this is that it encourages negative and critical attitudes and misinformation – how does that help the practice of Buddha’s teachings?”

    There are many false paths that empty bank accounts and cause suffering.

    There is no misinformation. There is the examination of ego inspired religiousity
    in the clear light. Dogen would expect no less.

  25. John_eg
    John_eg October 4, 2012 at 11:27 am | |

    The controversy over Dorje Shugden concerned the sectarian nature of the practice. Because DS is regarded as protecting the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism from being diluted by elements from other Tibetan Buddhist schools. The Dalai Lama opposed the practice because of its sectarian nature but recommeded reliance on other deities.

    I read about this at length some time back in a highly priced book and was going to recount what I can remember at length but I realised it’s not really relevant to this post. But having come this far I thought I should post something so hello, I’ve been reading this blog for sometime but never posted before.

  26. Fred
    Fred October 4, 2012 at 11:35 am | |

    ” I would have liked to have had my intellectual ‘eyes’ opened to something I don’t understand.”

    The intellect will spend an eternity chasing its tail in circles, and still not grasp
    what it seeks.

    No rehashed dogma in that sentence.

  27. South Houston Sangha
    South Houston Sangha October 4, 2012 at 11:50 am | |

    @boubi

    I believe they might be referring to the YouTube titled “An Unholy Row”. It’s pretty easy to find by searching. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

  28. boubi
    boubi October 4, 2012 at 12:31 pm | |

    Thinking about it actually it should be Nishijima’s way.

  29. boubi
    boubi October 4, 2012 at 12:33 pm | |

    >>Boubi
    I’m not sure that calling Brad “Monsieur Saucisse” is really that nice…<<

    Tout dépend de la taille ;)

  30. Fred
    Fred October 4, 2012 at 1:25 pm | |

    This was on youtube, but it didn’t go viral yet:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6nurf0JHB0

  31. Jinzang
    Jinzang October 4, 2012 at 5:48 pm | |

    “Sorry Jinzang”

    No need to apologize to me. This strikes me as just another pointless argument, so rather than say something angry and stupid, I’ll watch my step.

  32. Anonymous
    Anonymous October 4, 2012 at 6:08 pm | |

    Brad,

    PLEASE have your computer guy do something about the comment section. I’ll bitch about it but won’t contribute.

    Anyway, there are nested responses that are being overlooked and good stuff that is being missed by your typical commenters, who seem more interested in showing how smart/literate/important they are than in carrying anything resembling an interesting and/or on-point discussion.

    Thank you.

  33. vtstev
    vtstev October 4, 2012 at 6:24 pm | |

    I don’t know anything about NKT, but I am interested in the superstitious aspects of Zen practice. I recently returned from a weekend sesshin, my first in over 15 years, where I experienced again some of the superstitious rituals associated with formal Zen practice. At meal times, we recited prayers for, and made offerings to, hungry ghosts. During work practice after the first meal, one of the leaders took me aside and gently reminded me that hungry ghosts had very narrow throats, so a grain of rice is the only acceptable offering to them. It seems my offering of a piece of bean pod would have caused great suffering to such a being, if, of course, one actually existed, and actually ate the food that was offered. In actuality, the local deer ate the food; so much the better. A friend of mine who rode with me to the sesshin has been practicing for the better part of forty years also gave a non-rice offering. I joked, wondering how many hungry ghosts we choked between the two of us over the course of the weekend.
    When I was first learning about Buddhism many years ago, I remember thinking that the hungry ghost was a pretty good metaphor for uncontrolled desire, which I related to fairly strongly at the time, since I was dealing with an addiction issue. In psychological terms, as an affect image, I still think it has some merit. But as an actual sentient being, not so much.
    This is only one example – at sesshin we also chanted the Sho Sai Myo Kichijo Dharani, a sequence of syllables which I am led to believe dispels all calamities. I don’t buy that any more than I do hungry ghosts. These things just don’t fit into the world view I hold as a western man in the 21st century. I don’t think I’m alone in that assessment.
    I do, however, believe strongly in zazen practice. The more I do it, the more I’m convinced that it’s the most important thing that I do, or will ever do, in this life.
    People engaged in this practice surely recognize the importance of the basis of what the old man taught – the truth of no permanently abiding self. It’s not just a cool idea. I think this understanding may really be the only way humanity will learn to participate in building a truly sustainable environment for ourselves and other sentient and non-sentient life.
    I think the superstitious elements of Zen practice are an impediment to its growth and will need to be jettisoned if Zen is to flourish, but I have no idea if, when, or how that will happen.

  34. Anonymous
    Anonymous October 4, 2012 at 7:14 pm | |

    Vtstev, if your practice is with the Sanbo Kyodan just know that it’s not well-respected in these parts and is also subject to criticism and comparisons to a cult. Soto Zen is basically it for our fearless leader.

    I don’t literally think that he fully and formally would endorse how I just represented his viewpoint on the Sanbo Kyodan, but an examination of his comments on the topic would support my conclusion.

    So let’s be very clear here: Brad seems to be all for whatever works for you and you’re happy with. He just doesn’t mind throwing down criticisms of stuff that isn’t Soto Zen as taught by his teacher. Or at least that’s how I see it. I’m probably mostly wrong.

  35. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 4, 2012 at 9:19 pm | |

    “People engaged in this practice surely recognize the importance of the basis of what the old man taught – the truth of no permanently abiding self. It’s not just a cool idea. I think this understanding may really be the only way humanity will learn to participate in building a truly sustainable environment for ourselves and other sentient and non-sentient life.

    I think the superstitious elements of Zen practice are an impediment to its growth and will need to be jettisoned if Zen is to flourish, but I have no idea if, when, or how that will happen.”

    I spoke out at the Kobun memorial sesshin last July about the need to find words to communicate the heart of the practice that is zazen, as a matter of survival now.

    Seems clear to me that unless I act from the place in which I find myself, and find satisfaction in the feeling and close experience of my own necessity, I’m part of the problem instead of the solution when it comes to global warming. But for Zen to flourish, my guess is that more will be required than jettisoning ceremony, chant, and superstition; I think they pretty much did that at Antaiji, following in the footsteps of Kodo Sawaki, and yet 50 minute sittings up to 14 times a day during sesshin hasn’t caught on yet around the world. My hat is off to Issho Fujita, and to Brad Warner, for looking for ways to communicate what the practice is (in Fujita’s case) and what the practice is not (in Mr. Warner’s case). I firmly believe that I can teach myself to sit the lotus without pain or numbness, and I think the key is in an openness to the vestibular sense of location and the ability to feel associated with the sense of location, and to the responsiveness of location and feeling to necessity and in particular to the necessity of this movement of breath. What do you know, when I get up and walk around, I begin to perceive that necessity at the close of my thoughts, my perceptions and sensations. There’s a relief.

  36. Khru
    Khru October 4, 2012 at 11:40 pm | |

    I don’t want to insult horse shit but this comment thread is horse shit.

  37. rubot
    rubot October 5, 2012 at 2:35 am | |

    If you’re thinking about putting your faith in Dorje Shugden, why not just make life simpler and put your faith in the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny?

    In fairness, whilst there are elements of devotion and wishing for external reward in Tibetan Buddhism and deities, every lama I have seen speak on the subject has stressed that such visualizations and prayers to deities are primarily used internally for the practitioner to help them on the path, so these images and characters have special resonance for the practitioner over other ‘mythical’ images such as the Easter Bunny.

  38. Fred
    Fred October 5, 2012 at 4:56 am | |

    ” every lama I have seen speak on the subject has stressed that such visualizations and prayers to deities are primarily used internally for the practitioner to help them on the path”

    Walk us through exactly how that works. On the path to what?

    This Zen here now involves dropping hindrances, not creating new ones.

    This Zen here now involves seeing through illusion not feeding new images of
    supernatural beings.

    This Zen here now involves wiping the screen blank, and living in the real
    world without magical incantations and rituals.

  39. Fred
    Fred October 5, 2012 at 5:01 am | |

    No rehashing of dogma in that post.

  40. Andy
    Andy October 5, 2012 at 6:28 am | |

    Stop asking Rubot questions and contribute to the conversation, Fred!

    @rubot

    I’m not a Christian, but I’ve discovered over the years a deepening respect for Holy Communion. I find it an inspiring and enrichening thing. Whenever I come across images or references to the last supper, I find it a freshing and touching thing to enter into, and even from this non-Christian ‘distance’ there’s something intimate in it that jibes with what you have called a ‘special resonance’.

    Something that resonates or harmonises with the notion of ‘surrender’ in the sense I’ve read Mark Foote use the word (in contrast to a kind of literalist, objectified worship) that I feel is at the heart of many authentically soteriological activities, whether these be my circling and bowing to my cushion in the same way, in my little cramped room; the ‘samadhi’ of an artist’s surrender through often very personal rituals, their tools/materials and choice of form; and other modes of religious worship. Even something as simple as deeply appreciating and embracing the slightly heightened, arbitrary rituals around the table when a family gets together, especially on some special occasion. And so on.

    Perhaps without this sense of things the forms with which we choose to express ourselves and live by start to turn to dead wood, dead metaphors.

  41. boubi
    boubi October 5, 2012 at 7:25 am | |

    @ vtstev

    When Zen came to china and Japan and other places it had to find a place among or take the place of previous religions that catered to people everyday needs, as crops, health, luck, birth and death and afterlife and so on.

    They also had to make a living so it became what it became, dharma intertwined with healthcare, agronomy.

    When it arrived in the west i think that many zen priests simply took with them all their cultural luggage.

    1. vtstev
      vtstev October 5, 2012 at 8:08 am | |

      boubi, I think you’re right. There’s a lot of cultural baggage being carried, some of which is fine. Bowing, for example, is a cultural holdover from China and Japan that experience has shown me can be valuable in modern America, despite the fact that it’s not part of our western cultural heritage. Offerings to non-existent beings are not as helpful, imo, and may actually be an impediment to some folks with a 21st century view of the cosmos, who know, for example, that hungry ghosts and Mt. Meru don’t really exist, but who might otherwise find zazen practice really helpful.
      I don’t know where to draw that line, but I think it’s important to ask the question.

  42. boubi
    boubi October 5, 2012 at 7:32 am | |

    And where there are strong asian communities, the communities themselves ask for this kind of ritual, recreating abroad what they know in their home countries.

    It is noteworthy that those communities, to my knowledge, don’t ask as much as westerners for meditation, thus situations where priests are rejected, and called back home by the main temple, by some community because more meditation oriented.

    You can get to the situation where two priests attend two different needs, communitarian ceremonies on one side and meditation on the other.

  43. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 5, 2012 at 9:50 am | |

    That’s big-minded, Boubi (not the registered trademark kind). I tend to focus on the description of the relationships involved in sitting the lotus, even though I know that the key to zazen is something akin to a hypnogogic state, and as Shunryu Suzuki told Blance Hartman “only zazen can sit zazen.”

    I tend to assume the Gautamid was right, that any intelligent person can realize “deliverance from thought without grasping” with a certain amount of consistent effort, or if not “deliverance from thought” a place from which they will easily realize “deliverance from thought” at an appropriate time. I know that there are lots of folks out there who find a practice that gives them “deliverance from thought” with only a mythological explanation of the main components of their practice; scientific understanding that can be shared by one individual with another is not necessary to practice, and indeed where “deliverance from thought” is taken as the object would seem counter-indicated.

    I’ve had great discussions with Seventh-Day Adventists, because I found in their personal, experiential use of the mythology the same relationships that I experience as I struggle with the action that emerges from the necessity I find under my feet and in my breath.

    I believe, although I would be hard-pressed to offer any proof, that unless the practice can be explained in terms of phenomena we know through science, objectively, one person to another, then mythology and superstition will continue to be part of the mix. This, even though “only zazen can sit zazen”; the point is the accurate depiction of the relationships involved so that I can accept that “zazen can sit zazen”, not my making it happen.

    Andy, I rewrote what I wrote here last night on my blog, and I came back to that surrender you mention:

    “I firmly believe that I can teach myself to sit the lotus without pain or numbness, and I think the key is in an openness to the vestibular sense of location and the feeling that goes along with it, and to the responsiveness of location and feeling to necessity and in particular to the necessity of this movement of breath. What do you know, when I get up and walk around, I begin to perceive that necessity at the close of my thoughts; it’s a kind of relief, if I’m open to it.”

  44. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel October 5, 2012 at 11:55 am | |

    As for superstitions and deities, two things. I was a bit surprised, thousands of years ago when I first learned Italian, to find that the verb “superstire” (akin to superstizione) meant “survive”.
    The other is that, on a devotional point of view, such deities as Our Lady of Sounds (Kannon), or Manjusri or Jizo, are just as valid as Santa Claus or Easter Bunny. Even Bugs Bunny stems from an Amerindian deity (Nanabush). These deities do not exist on a material level. To say that they exist on a “spiritual” level, though is also risky. But they are quite simply impersonations of principles that live in our lives. The Lady of Sounds or Lady of Mercy that is Kannon, is a principle which ought to live in us. It is more reasonable to give it a feminine figure, because it is more of a feminine aspect of ourselves. Santa Claus is the spirit of free giving, and in the old days, the gifts under the Xmas tree never bore the name of the giver, so that the gift would have come with no ties. And Bugs is a trickster, the Creator of the world, but not a very decent one…

  45. boubi
    boubi October 5, 2012 at 12:41 pm | |

    Super stare, to stay beyond/above, which gives “remains”, remains of believes that are not “rationals”/orthodox, like black cats, odd numbers, spilled salt etc etc.

    Always had my doubts about the bodhisatvas in buddhist liturgy, what were they doing there.

    It can help on many levels to lean on some luminous figures or delegate to them some tasks or to relay on them to alleviate pains.

    “Heavenly father”, “heavenly mother” could be some examples when confronted to situations beyond our reach and powers.

    For instance, talking shit (as you say in english), i have sometimes lucid dreams but still limited capability to achieve tasks, so the last time i wanted to “teleport” from on place to another without being able to, i asked to some “entity”/”spirit”/”who knows what” to push me, and it worked just fine.

    Through “figures” i think we are able to channel energies we have not the confidence (for some reason) to use directly, of this i became aware in the dream. As if i asked to a “part of me” (?) to do the task (that i was doing).

  46. boubi
    boubi October 5, 2012 at 12:47 pm | |

    Like the little kid who saved a toddler from a fire, when asked if he was scared and how he was able to enter the house the answer was “because I was Spiderman”.*

    Beyond any commentary.

    1. chasrmartin
      chasrmartin October 13, 2012 at 11:49 pm | |

      I would dearly love to get a link or reference for that story.

  47. Fred
    Fred October 5, 2012 at 2:25 pm | |

    “even though I know that the key to zazen is something akin to a hypnogogic state, and as Shunryu Suzuki told Blance Hartman “only zazen can sit zazen.”

    In the open state, the inside embraces the outside, emptiness meets itself.

    Is it an altered trance state, or is our everyday self the trance state.

    Certainly ritual is a crutch for the ego, for our ” old hometown “.

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