Is Zen Really Buddhism?

BuddZenNobody’s sent anything in to Ask Mr. Zen! I was serious! Send your questions with the subject heading Ask Mr Zen to and I will put together a podcast in which I answer them! The following is an example of what could happen with your question.

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I got the following email the other day:

Hi Brad

Currently I’m in the Ordination process with a group called the Triratna Buddhist Order (formerly the Western Buddhist order) founded in the UK. It is an ecumenical order but they clearly implicitly have their favored and schools, methods and doctrines.

This is perfectly reasonable and understandable, but what I take issue with is the subtle (or not so subtle) putting down of other traditions, which seems totally unnecessary and a violation of speech precepts and slanderous towards the tradition, if there are no grounds for the criticism. 

I hear this kind of talk a lot from others in the order. My main question regards to a statement made by the order’s founder Shangharakshita in print:

“Just because a figure appears on the Refuge Tree doesn’t mean that what he taught can be taught at an FWBO centre. It may be that it can, if there is something that is useful and compatible with our particular presentation of the Dharma, but not necessarily.

“In the case of Dogen, for instance, we must acknowledge that much of Far Eastern Buddhism, especially Japanese Zen, seems to have been greatly influenced by something of a Vedantic character, which therefore calls into doubt the complete orthodoxy of all of Dogen’s teachings in that some may depart from the Buddha’s fundamental teachings of pratÄ«tya samutpāda and anātman.”

Sangharakshita (quote from p.7 of following link)

In my personal view Dogen has one of, if not the, most penetrating and subtle/mystical interpretation of the Dharma. I don’t think he would fall into simple errors.

I would be happy to hear any thoughts you have on this issue!

Here’s what I said (edited and rewritten somewhat):

I’ve often been accused of not following “right speech” or of violating the precept that says not to slander other Buddhists because I’m critical of certain other teachers and sects, most specifically Genpo Roshi’s Big Mindâ„¢ stuff. But there have been others. Then again, lots of teachers past and present have been guilty of this sort of thing.

For example, Dogen was very critical of the teacher Ta Hui (called Daie SoÌ„koÌ„ in Japanese) and his followers particularly when it came to their use of koans as a method of attempting to induce enlightenment experiences. In a chapter of Shobogenzo called Jisho Zanmai, or “Samadhi as Experience of the Self” he says this about Ta Hui, “He is an extreme case of negligence in practice. Through greed for fame and love of profit, he wants to break into the inner sanctum of the Buddhist patriarchs … Because he is like this, in the lineage of Zen Master SoÌ„koÌ„ there is not one true nose ring, or even half of one, but there are many whose basis is unreal.” The reference to nose rings alludes to the ring used to lead a water buffalo by the nose. It means a person of self-control. It does not refer to being a hipster.

This kind of stuff appears all the time in all sorts of Buddhist literature both ancient and current. It can be disconcerting. But consider this. One needs one’s teacher to be confident in his/her teachings. For example, if I didn’t think Soto style Zen and shikantaza style goalless meditation were the absolute best, I wouldn’t be doing them. I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to ordain as a teacher of a practice that I thought was only just as good as anything else out there. I wanted the best and I got the best, the hottest meditation in the world, shikantaza, to paraphrase the guy who introduces KISS in concert. So I can forgive others for saying their style is the best even when I disagree with them. It’s part of many teachers’ ways of instilling their own confidence in whatever path they’ve chosen in their students.

A big problem when this happens over here is that our Western tradition has a bad history of moving from statements like “my religion is the best” to “let’s kill everyone who doesn’t believe in it” very quickly. Witness the Crusades and contemporary Islamic terrorism. But Buddhism generally doesn’t go that far, or hasn’t until very recently, such as in the unfortunate cases in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. If you look at the cases of Buddhist violence that Wikipedia lists, they’re not pretty. But they do not even begin to to compare with what has gone on in the West in terms of scale, and most are recent enough that I tend to suspect they’re being influenced by us.

As a result of our own history, we are sometimes a bit overly sensitive to statements coming from our Buddhist teachers that seem to put down other traditions. Theses statements are generally pretty harmless, though. They’re mostly just expressions of deep confidence in the teacher’s chosen tradition. I used to sometimes sign books with the phrase “kill the non-believers” as a joke until I started worrying some psycho out there might take me seriously.

As for the specific contents of what Sangharakshita and the folks in your order are saying, the idea that Zen may not be Buddhism is pretty common. Shambhala even published a very useful book called The Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, whose title indicates their own ambivalence about whether Zen was really Buddhism or not. Personally, I think that Zen is actually much closer in spirit and practice to what Gautama Buddha actually taught than the other forms of Buddhism out there. Then again, I would say that because that’s Zen doctrine. Dogen even argued that it was heretical to call what he taught “Zen” because it was nothing but real Buddhism.

The case could be made either way, depending on what sources you look at. Sometimes Gautama Buddha seems to be advocating something very much like shikantaza style “just sitting” practice with no goal and very minimal technique. Other times he seems to be advocating more technique-oriented and goal-directed meditation practices. So you’re left arguing about which of these versions of the canon is what he really said or if maybe he prescribed different styles to different people. But I think arguments based on this kind of search for historic certainty are doomed to failure. We’ll never all agree on what Gautama Buddha actually said any more than we’ll all agree on who killed JFK. That’s the nature of history.

But going back to the stuff about Dogen, I find the statements you provided from Shangharakshita about Dogen puzzling. Dogen is very clear in his statements regarding the non-existence of the soul (anatman) in Bendowa, Genjo Koan and elsewhere and his strong belief in cause and effect (pratÄ«tya samutpāda) is laid out in great detail in the Shobogenzo chapter Shin Jin Inga or “Deep Belief in Cause and Effect” (The Nishijima/Cross translations of Shobogenzo Book 1 and Shobogenzo Book 4 are also available as free PDF downloads from Numata Press). They even sell a t-shirt at Tassajara with 深信因果 (shin jin in ga or “deep belief in cause and effect) on it. I can think of lots of other different reasons one might criticize Dogen as not being truly Buddhist, depending on one’s definition of what “truly Buddhist” means. But to pick out these two as examples seems absurd. I can’t imagine anyone who actually read Dogen would select these particular topics since Dogen’s views on them are extremely orthodox.

If I were going to criticize Japanese Zen as being untrue to classical Buddhist doctrine I’d be more likely to cite things like the fact that Japanese Buddhist monks are not required to be celibate (see the book Neither Monk Nor Layman: Clerical Marriage in Modern Japanese Buddhism or my book Sex Sin and Zen for more on this). If I was going to criticize Dogen as being unorthodox I’d compare his teaching of shikantaza to the much more methodical types of meditation sometimes described in some early Buddhist sutras. So it just seems odd to me he would pick out areas in which Dogen is so orthodox.

To return to whether Zen is “real Buddhism” or not, my personal feeling on the matter is based on experience and (I think) common sense. It seems to me that the story of Buddha’s life is a tale of trying to find a truth that is completely different from absorbing a tradition or parroting what one has been told. In his book An End to Suffering, Pankaj Mishra puts it this way, “the Buddha claimed originally that such knowledge of the eternal self (claimed by his former teachers) was fixed in advance. The meditator had actually trained himself to locate it in the attainment of the deep state… (Buddha’s former teachers) had not realized it from within; it was an abstraction, a product of speculation… Buddha taught that such an experience was samskrta (conditioned)… it sprang from certain clear causes – frame of mind, will, intention, and so it could not be identical with an eternal and unborn Self.”

The only way I can think of to come to an unconditioned realization is the goalless practice of shikantaza or at least something very much like it. I realize that absolutely any method or technique of meditation – including shikantaza – is prone to some sort of conditioning. But I can’t imagine anything that could possibly come closer to truly unconditioned sitting than the practice Dogen talked about. Also, my personal experience with the practice leads me to believe it is all that Dogen says it is.

Now, if you want my advise on ordination, I’d say just do what feels right to you. However, if you think you might end up butting heads with the home office once you start teaching, that could be a problem worth considering before ordaining with them.

Thanks for writing!

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188 Responses

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  1. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz April 24, 2014 at 6:52 am |

    Nice post.

    Personally, I like Thai Forest Tradition the most because of how down to earth it is. Zen is a close second. I like Buddhadasa’s teachings a lot.

  2. Daniel
    Daniel April 24, 2014 at 7:09 am |

    Thanks to the Maitreya, Sam Harris we don’t need Buddhism or Zen anymore. All we need is a good explanation of how to meditate and see what is. And “sit down in a weird posture and think the thought of not-thinking.” issn’t a very good or helpful one…just sounds sort of trippy for most of us living in the 21st century. Yes guys…it’s no longer 1250, you can stop wearing those funny clothes! 🙂

    So…here’s what you might consider…an except from Sam Harris. After reading it make your bows towards whatever you believe in because Yes this is finally a guy who is able to put it into usable words, without using weird language from hundreds of years ago…

    (yes it’s longer than “think the thought of not thinking” but it might save you a few decades of zen-retreats trying to figure out WTF shikantaza actually is…)

    — START —

    I think the best way to communicate this is by analogy. Everyone has had the experience of looking through a window and suddenly catching sight of his own reflection staring back at him from the glass. At that point, he can use the glass as a window, to see the world outside, or as a mirror, but he can’t do both at the same time.
    Sometimes your reflection in the glass is pretty subtle, and you could easily stand there for ten minutes, looking outside while staring right through the image of your own face without seeing it.
    For the purposes of this analogy, imagine that the goal of meditation is to see your own reflection clearly in each moment. Most spiritual traditions don’t realize that this can be done directly, and they articulate their paths of practice in ways that suggest that if you only paid more attention to everything beyond the glass–trees, sky, traffic–eventually your face would come into view. Looking out the window is arguably better than closing your eyes or leaving the room entirely–at least you are facing in the right direction–but the practice is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. You don’t realize that you are looking through the very thing you are trying to find in every moment. Given better information, you could just walk up to the window and see your face in the first instant.
    The same is true for the illusoriness of the self. Consciousness is already free of the feeling that we call “I.” However, a person must change his plane of focus to realize this. Some practices can facilitate this shift in awareness, but there is no truly gradual path that leads there. Many longtime meditators seem completely unaware that these two planes of focus exist, and they spend their lives looking out the window, as it were. I used to be one of them. I’d stay on retreat for a few weeks or months at a time, being mindful of the breath and other sense objects, thinking that if I just got closer to the raw data of experience, a breakthrough would occur. Occasionally, a breakthrough did occur: In a moment of seeing, for instance, there would be pure seeing, and consciousness would appear momentarily free of any feeling to which the notion of a “self” could be attached. But then the experience would fade, and I couldn’t get back there at will. There was nothing to do but return to meditating dualistically on contents of consciousness, with self-transcendence as a distant goal.
    However, from the non-dual side, ordinary consciousness–the very awareness that you and I are experiencing in this conversation–is already free of self. And this can be pointed out directly, and recognized again and again, as one’s only form of practice. So gradual approaches are, almost by definition, misleading. And yet this is where everyone starts.
    In criticizing this kind of practice, someone like Eckhart Tolle is echoing the non-dualistic teachings one finds in traditions such as Advaita Vedanta, Zen (sometimes), and Dzogchen. Many of these teachings can sound paradoxical: You can’t get there from here. The self that you think you are isn’t going to meditate itself into a new condition. This is true, but as Sharon says, it’s not always useful. The path is too steep.
    Of course, this non-dual teaching, too, can be misleading–because even after one recognizes the intrinsic selflessness of consciousness, one still has to practice that recognition. So there is a point to meditation after all–but it isn’t a goal-oriented one. In each moment of real meditation, the self is already transcended.

    – See more at:

  3. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz April 24, 2014 at 7:11 am |

    “In Buddhism, we should unite the Southern and Northern traditions. From now on, we won’t refer to Mahayana or Theravada. Mahayana is the “Northern Tradition” and Theravada is the “Southern Tradition.” […] Both the Southern and the Northern Traditions’ members are disciples of the Buddha, we are the Buddha’s descendants. As such, we should do what Buddhists ought to do. […] No matter the Southern or the Northern Tradition, both share the common purpose of helping living beings bring forth the Bodhi-mind, to put an end to birth and death, and to leave suffering and attain bliss.”

    – Hsuan Hua

  4. Andy
    Andy April 24, 2014 at 8:42 am |

    Not Daniel is Not CosmicBrainz

    Hua Hua Hua Hua!

  5. Daniel CosmicBrainz
    Daniel CosmicBrainz April 24, 2014 at 9:43 am |

    Hi Andy!

  6. boubi
    boubi April 24, 2014 at 9:50 am |

    1 – When are we going to stop thinking that we did the most horrible things in the world?

    Every state/civilisation did as much damage as it was technologically able to do.

    Now which other civilisation was able to selfcriticism (to the extreme of self-flogging we reached now)? I don’t know of any.

    2 – “if I didn’t think Soto style Zen and shikantaza style goalless meditation were the absolute best, I wouldn’t be doing them

    I eat garlic because “i” like it, not because i think it’s the ultimate taste on earth.

    A great master of the past said something more or less like this :
    “Until you don’t reach the top of the mountain you don’t realize all the path are going to the same place”.

    So all the other traditions are in your eyes no more than second class practice , at best … sorry i already asked you many times, what do you know of the other traditions? Did you ever tried any other?

    Yeah i know your “kensho-smensho” issue, you read books relating kenshos, but you practiced another tradition, and as a result you ended up disparaging what you weren’t able to reach, like the fox in the tale.

    If you want to swim, stop training heavy lifting, train swimming.

    You like your reading of Dogen’s book? OK, good, why not, so let others like their own traditions. Is it so difficult? Btw what about Soto Shu do they read the same Dogen or are they some kind of heretics.

    In other posts you complained that other more traditional lineage holders declared you non-buddhist because you don’t believe in reincarnation … and they didn’t invited you at their buddhist get toghether. But then you bring in this “god” thing that doesn’t exist (to my knowledge) in any of Dogen’s books.

    As i wrote in other posts all this bickering is damaging the real matter, confusing people, enancing egos and in the Zen japanese lineages (the ones at hand here) just carrying on old feuds from the middle ages.

    Dogen did indeed practice koans (which are a way as many others, not the one), this practice got eutanized by his second successor.

    “The only way I can think of to come to an unconditioned realization is the goalless practice of shikantaza or at least something very much like it
    But I can’t imagine anything that could possibly come closer to truly unconditioned sitting than the practice Dogen talked about.”

    Right, try and say it at the next buddhist convention, if they ever invite you.

    I don’t think Siddharta got through all those hardships looking for unconditioned sitting … i think he left home and family for something else … sorry to remind it

    … but who am i to say it to a lineage holder?

  7. boubi
    boubi April 24, 2014 at 10:01 am |

    My own impression is that you (collectively) got stuck into this “unconditioned sitting “ thing, as if it was the ultimate ultimate of all things.

    What about the “unconditioned every moment of life” thing?

    And review your history, please.

  8. boubi
    boubi April 24, 2014 at 10:03 am |
  9. Steve
    Steve April 24, 2014 at 10:46 am |

    The person who suggested that Zen might be unorthodox did so by saying Zen was influenced by something of a vedantic character. And as such this may deviate from the teachings of dependent origination and/or anatman or no-self.

    Ultimately what is the difference between Vedantic teaching of atman and Buddhist teaching of anatman? Isn’t it basically describing reality from inside reality vs. describing reality by pretending to stand outside it and then looking in? A buddhist anatman teaching would say that all is emptiness. A vedantic atman teaching would say there is only the one mind. the one mind is the ultimate substance of everything in the phenomenal world. That the phenomenal world is nothing but a manifestation of this intangible one Mind that cannot be located in the phenomenal world through any psychological or physical experience. But one can intuit it. the “it” being the atman or true self.

    It seems to me that a lot of these atman/anatman disputes are semantic. The Buddha taught there was no-self! No, the Buddha taught that nothing we experience in the phenomenal world is the self. But the one mind, which is the substance of the phenomenal world is the true self! See the true self! But there can’t be a “true self” because the buddha taught “no-self”! No he didn’t, he taught people to reject that which wasn’t the “true self”………..

    At the end of the day, you have one group grasping the concept of the “one Mind” or “true self” that is both beyond, and the substance of, the phenomenal world. And you have the other group grasping some vague idea of what “emptiness” is. But ultimately it’s the same goddamn concept from a different perspective. And the concept needs to be transcended in both cases.

    I don’t know if that’s really the difference. I’m just asking. That’s just what it seems like to me when I read these arguments. I don’t think I’m smart enough to read and understand all the source material all by my lonesome.

  10. Alan_A
    Alan_A April 24, 2014 at 10:50 am |

    Wynton Marsalis has argued that the dozens of rival jazz camps and schools ought to stop arguing with each other because at the root, everything they’re doing is swing. It’s all swing. If I recall correctly, old man Shakyamuni said something similar – “it’s all swing.” I forget the exact sutra, but it’s in there.

  11. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz April 24, 2014 at 11:14 am |

    “Take no thought of who is right or wrong or who is better than. Be not for or against.”

    Bruce Lee

  12. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote April 24, 2014 at 11:29 am |

    “… it sprang from certain clear causes – frame of mind, will, intention, and so it could not be identical with an eternal and unborn Self.”

    The passage with the reference to the Unborn, that would be from the fifth Nikaya, which historians agree is a later work than the first four. Any time you see a reference to an “eternal and unborn Self”, you can pretty much be certain that you have left the building as far as the teachings of the historical Gautama.

    Steve says transcend form and emptiness. The question for me is practice, where are understanding and practice such as is?

    Regarding this which I wrote:

    ‘The abandonment of activity in the body that is occasioned by “making self-surrender the object of thought” will at some point touch on the habitual activity connected with the movement of breath, and at the moment the breath is “cut off” in the surrender of activity, relaxation brings a return to the senses without the application of thought applied and sustained.’

    Does well-being necessitate the relinquishment of volition, the abandonment of habitual activity, and the experience of action in the absence of volition? In order to experience action in the absence of volition, I have to take a step off the top of the mountain, don’t you? I have to continue to relinquish the exercise of volition in the realization of action out of stretch, and in the realization of the distinction of the senses out of necessity.

    When I was born, I remembered how to breathe as I never had before. Thinking about it, I suspect that when I die, I will distinguish sense as never before.

    In paranibbana sutra, Gautama is said to have transitioned through the first four meditative states to the cessation of (volitive activity in) inhalation and exhalation, continued through the next five states to the cessation of (volitive activity in) perception and sensation, and then returned to the cessation of inhalation and exhalation, which was the state in which he passed away.

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot April 24, 2014 at 3:59 pm |
    2. minkfoot
      minkfoot April 24, 2014 at 4:14 pm |

      The passage with the reference to the Unborn, that would be from the fifth Nikaya, which historians agree is a later work than the first four.

      Say, Mark, could you give some cites?

    1. boubi
      boubi April 25, 2014 at 2:49 am |
  13. fregas
    fregas April 24, 2014 at 11:40 am |

    Great article Brad. Interesting stuff.

    I have always been puzzled about your view of soto and shinkantaza as being “the best” meditation around. First, you have admitted that you really haven’t tried other forms of meditation much–vipassana, mantra meditation such as mu, koans, etc. So you seem to promoting your own style without having really tried the others. You have no experiential knowledge of the other forms and are accepting your style as the best because its what you have been taught. You are relying solely on authority.

    Secondly, why does any one style have to be “the best” anyway? People practice different exercises to accomplish different goals: to help with back problems, to become a marathon runner, to “look good naked”, muscle mass, etc. The same is true of diets and hobbies. Pescatarian might be better for some people but Vegan might help those with dairy allergies. This doesn’t mean all meditation or practice is equal…maybe overall vipassana is better then chanting “Mu” or Shikantaza is better than Yoga. But it could also be that Vipassana is better for some people, focusing on the breath is better for others, Mu still better for a third group and that all inevitably lead to some sort of awakening whether gradual or sudden. Maybe soto is better for you but the breath is better for me.

    I just don’t understand why you think one type of meditation or one type of school has to be “the best” to the detriment of all others.

    1. boubi
      boubi April 24, 2014 at 12:47 pm |

      Where do they chant “Mu“?

      1. Shodo
        Shodo April 25, 2014 at 4:23 pm |

        boubi said:
        “Where do they chant “Mu”…?”

        I’ve chanted Mu before, personally as well as with many people during sesshins. 😉

    2. Alan Sailer
      Alan Sailer April 24, 2014 at 1:22 pm |


      One problem I can see with the idea of trying many different styles of meditation is that we only have a limited time to live.

      It takes decades to make a sincere effort to follow one type of practice. Which means that you can only try a limited number of techniques during an average lifetime. And you also couldn’t go to the depths of any one discipline.

      There are teachers who have followed more than one practice, so it’s obviously not impossible.

      One of Brad’s dharma brothers practiced a fair amount of vipassana before turning to soto zen. He, like Brad, teaches only the latter.


      1. boubi
        boubi April 24, 2014 at 2:04 pm |

        There are also exemple of people who practiced zen and went to other practices, everybody goes pretty well everywhere.

        1. mb
          mb April 24, 2014 at 3:13 pm |

          Exactly. Shinzen Young. Studied under Joshu Sasaki and a Korean Zen master before deciding that Vipassana was what he wanted to teach.

          1. minkfoot
            minkfoot April 24, 2014 at 3:57 pm |

            I believe he started as Shingon, no?

            I have a young friend involved with him now, and I sat with his group a few times. Mighty zennish, if you ask me.

          2. mb
            mb April 24, 2014 at 4:34 pm |

            Yes, he started out with Shingon when he was a university student. The Korean Zen. Then Joshu (side note: I’ve never seen his take on Joshu post-scandal – would be an interesting read). Then some Burmese Vipassana master. Then he started teaching.

            I’ve been a few of his events including an 1-day “retreat”. The vibe is certainly Zennish, but the methods imparted are quite specific, definitely not “just sitting”. He freely admits his approach is the “nerd” approach, the stereotype being that nerds really enjoy categorizing.

  14. boubi
    boubi April 24, 2014 at 12:45 pm |

    Oh, yeah, btw !

    Any possibility to have a definition of this “buddyism, buddhism?” were are talking about here?

    What is the core of the whole matter?

    .. i nearly forgot, could we get the definition of “enlightenment” too?

    You know just in order to stop rambling about things we don’t know anything about.

    But we could just start with the definition of this buddy even without the -ism.

  15. boubi
    boubi April 24, 2014 at 12:53 pm |

    In order to drop body and mind do we too have to strike our neighbor with a shoe?

    You know just in order to make it as true as it was, no deviation from the tradition.

    And always keeping to the tradition, how droping body and mind fits into the “unconditioned sitting “ where “sitting is being buddha”(tm)* thing?

    No buddhahood before the “dropping”?

    How wierd

    *no description available yet

    1. boubi
      boubi April 24, 2014 at 12:58 pm |

      Any indication of how many years it took to Dogen to “drop body and mind”?

      Did he just get out of the boat, meet the cook, sit down and get buddhahood?


  16. boubi
    boubi April 24, 2014 at 12:56 pm |

    Or maybe it was as Jesus who by dying on the croos opened the paradise, so Dogen “dropping body and mind” opened the instant buddhahood* of sitting for everybody.

    Must be like this.
    * Sanskrit: बुद्धत्व buddhatva; Pali: बुद्धत्त buddhatta or बुद्धभाव buddhabhāva

  17. boubi
    boubi April 24, 2014 at 12:59 pm |

    Any indication of how many years it took to Dogen to “drop body and mind”?

    Did he just get out of the boat, meet the cook, sit down and get buddhahood?


  18. boubi
    boubi April 24, 2014 at 1:03 pm |

    And on his way back (it must have been no more than a week) he wrote down an hundreds koans just to show how a trivial thing it was (or did he copyed them? – why?).

    So come on, let’s drop all that propaganda.

    You like it above anything?

    Good for you, keep it that way.

  19. boubi
    boubi April 24, 2014 at 1:40 pm |

    Just go to 0:50 of the video

  20. boubi
    boubi April 24, 2014 at 2:13 pm |

    Urgyen Sangharakshita
    of the
    Triratna Buddhist Community,

    According to this he seems completely full of it.


    Sangharakshita, the founder and head of the Western Buddhist Order, is a revered Elder within the western Buddhist world. Having, aged 16, seen the Absolute Truth embodied in the Diamond Sutra, he has never since wavered in his commitment to the highest Ideals. Born with propitious karma, he has never been beset by the difficulties that are the day-to-day experience of spiritual life for ordinary human beings (as his senior disciples will testify). He has always been keenly aware of his unusual spiritual standing, as evinced by the precociously authoritative tone of his early spiritual writings (See “Crossing the Stream.”) Indeed, his transcendence of ego is such that he is known sometimes to refer to himself in the 3rd person.

    After 20 years in the East as a young man, during which time thousands converted to Buddhism under his guidance – a period, incidentally, when he also became known as The Enemy of the Church – Sangharakshita returned to the West in 1964. Since then he has accomplished what he calls his “great and glorious achievement”: the founding and establishment of the Western Buddhist Order (See “My Relation to the Order”). Remarkably for a westerner, his life can only reasonably be described in the superlative terms that are normally reserved for Tibetan Lamas.

    Until now, Sangharakshita has presented his exposition of the Dharma in determinedly exoteric and rationalistic terms – the Digha Nikaya does begin, after all, with Right View – though he has been careful also to stress the importance of the mythic, non-rational side of life. Confident that this perspective is now firmly in place amongst his followers – and keenly aware that even one such as he is subject to anitya, to impermanence – his disciples have chosen the present time, the dawn of a new millennium, to reveal Sangharakshita’s ultimate teaching, the terma that was shown to him 30 years ago during his own ‘experimental’ period. ….

  21. boubi
    boubi April 24, 2014 at 2:23 pm |
    1. Shodo
      Shodo April 24, 2014 at 6:30 pm |

      You think *that’s* weird boubi… check out Eido Shimano’s heir Jun’Po answer to the question “What is Zen”?

      It that Buddhism…? 😉

  22. woken
    woken April 24, 2014 at 6:43 pm |

    your post gets to a central problem in transmission. In Japan at any rate, and I’m pretty sure across asia,virtually any traditional school expects that you commit to training under their guidance for an extended period of time.
    Genarally, when Japanese commit to the practice of any authentic tradition, be it zen, tea ceremony, traditional martial arts etc, they make a long term commitment to their teacher and in manifesting the “way” of the school. Lots drop out on the way, but this long term commitment is absolutely vital in order to get to the core teachings. The problem we have in the west is the supermarket mentality: We try a bit of this method, and if it’s not working out, we try something else. We never really commit and the tradition is not transmitted/ the deep teachings are not revealed. IMO, things like mindfulness are exacerbating the situation by appealing to westerners’ sense of restlessness and impatience. They wish to get to deeper levels while keeping their ego and sense of self intact. Spiritual practice isn’t a supermarket!

  23. Mumbles
    Mumbles April 24, 2014 at 8:08 pm |

    “The reference to nose rings alludes to the ring used to lead a water buffalo by the nose. It means a person of self-control. It does not refer to being a hipster.”

    In Dogen’s time, water buffaloes were hipsters…they showed self control in only wearing the nose ring or the hipster hat, never both at the same time…

    (Yeah, they totally had cameras in them there olden days, too. yeah, made from a potato.)

  24. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote April 24, 2014 at 9:35 pm |

    Read the Wikipedia article on Triratna Buddhist Community (formerly Friends of the Western Buddhist Order):

    “… in 2010 the renamed movement published an official history which acknowledged widespread concern among order members that, at least in the 1980s and before, the founder had misused his position as a Buddhist teacher to sexually exploit young men.”

    Apparently the Guardian published a story on FWBO:

    ‘The most detailed complaints reported were claims by Mark Dunlop, a former sexual abuse victim of Sangharakshita, who had lived with the movement’s founder for a number of years in the early 1970s, and left the order in 1985. The report described intimate details of what Dunlop characterised as their relationship, and claimed that Sangharakshita, who declined to comment, had told him “that to develop spiritually he had to get over his anti-homosexual conditioning.”’

  25. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote April 24, 2014 at 10:15 pm |

    wow, Lisa Fisher, indeed!

  26. boubi
    boubi April 25, 2014 at 2:54 am |

    Is Zen Buddy-ism?

  27. boubi
    boubi April 25, 2014 at 2:55 am |
  28. boubi
    boubi April 25, 2014 at 3:04 am |

    Is Zen Really Buddy-ism?

    What is Buddy-ism?

    What is Zen?

    1. Fred
      Fred April 25, 2014 at 8:27 am |

      Thanks, Shodo.

      Deconstructing ego – Jun Po

  29. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote April 25, 2014 at 8:55 am |

    I was cutting up a chicken the other day when I somehow triggered a back spasm. Three days now, and this morning I couldn’t find my way to the plow (the hatha yoga posture, which I’ve been doing before I wind into the pretzel pose). Still, it’s enlightening; all I could do in the pose was relax my lower abdomen along these lines:

    and the lower back similarly. “Before as behind, behind as before”. The pitch, yaw and roll is in those lines, but relaxing allowed the pose; of course, the trick is to be open to the emergence of the sign of the concentration in the movement of breath, and I am working on the anxiety I feel when I give up control of thinking like that.

    “Ajahn Chah would use the words ‘the reality of non-grasping’ as the definition for Nibbæna: realizing the reality of non-grasping. That helps to put it in a context because the emphasis is on awakening to how we grasp and hold on
    even to words like ‘Nibbæna’ or ‘Buddhism’ or ‘practice’ or ‘søla’ or whatever.”

    Ajahn Sumedho, as quoted in “The Island”, free book by the ajahns who were formerly co-abbots of Abhayagiri Monastery in Redwood Valley, CA. (linked by minkfoot above).

    “Deliverance from thought without grasping”, an alternative set of words for Gautama’s experience, from the Pali Canon (somewhere). I will dig out references later today or tomorrow, for the information about the fifth Nikaya; off the top, I’m pretty sure I got that from A.K. Warder’s “Indian Buddhism”.

    Interesting premise for the book, “The Island”, in short, that Westerners need a goal in their practice or it becomes “dry and technical”. I of course am currently exploring what it means when the premise of a completed infinity is excluded, both from formal mathematical logic and from the practice Dogen identified as enlightenment. If you ask me, “practice is enlightenment” is a way to say that it’s the finite bits in the senses that get drawn into well-being, and grasping after the sense of continuity that is present when the eyes inform equalibrioception (to the exclusion of the other senses) is an ill.

    1. Mumbles
      Mumbles April 25, 2014 at 10:16 am |

      “the anxiety I feel when I give up control”

      IMHO “grasping” is just this: holding on to the illusion of control.

  30. sri_barence
    sri_barence April 25, 2014 at 9:52 am |

    Going back to the Sam Harris thing. I read the article, and took up the suggestion of “looking at who or what is looking.” In other words, while sitting in zazen, I pointed my attention at who or what was pointing attention. I got the strong sensation that when I did that, I was making something up. It felt like my mind was responding to a request to find the self by creating a “self” in that moment. I think we humans do this all the time unconsciously; trying to make an “I” so that “I” can “have an experience.”

    Anyone want to comment?

    1. Fred
      Fred April 25, 2014 at 10:39 am |

      Sam Harris has a pretty big ego illusion.

    2. Fred
      Fred April 25, 2014 at 10:44 am |

      “Anyone want to comment?”

      How did this differ from doing zazen on mushrooms?

    3. Alan Sailer
      Alan Sailer April 25, 2014 at 10:48 am |


      It sounds like you had an interesting sit.

      I am told that mediation will bring up all sorts of things, including great insights.

      The standard advice from soto zen practice to note these understandings, drop them and go back to just sitting.

      It’s all about what is happening now, not great (or small) understandings.

      It my own practice this has been easy to do because I’ve only had small insights. I’m pretty sure that the real challenge comes when you have some amazing experience while sitting and then have to get back to the day-to-day of normal sitting.

      It must be tough to drop something like that…


      1. minkfoot
        minkfoot April 25, 2014 at 11:06 am |

        I think it’s in Yasutani’s introductory instructions that he suggests some people might be helped by keeping pad and pencil by one’s seat. I used to think that was odd, superfluous, and distracting. Over time, I began to get great strings of words going through my mind, so great, I would obviously remember them after the sitting finished – but I almost never did. I found it less distracting to just write them down in a notebook I keep for the purpose, and go back to sitting without regret.

        Stirring up creative juices before sitting is not wise, I’ve found. Best sit first thing, then get to typing, painting, designing . . .

        There is a relationship between creativity and meditation, but it’s not always smooth.

        1. Alan Sailer
          Alan Sailer April 25, 2014 at 11:36 am |


          I’ve debated the notebook thing.

          I do have “great” ideas that I don’t remember after a sit. But I am not all that sure that they are worth keeping.

          I’m curious, do your notebook entries merit the effort made to record them?


          1. minkfoot
            minkfoot April 25, 2014 at 12:21 pm |

            Sometimes. Often not. It’s like writing on speed – you do a lot of it and it seems great while you’re in that frame of mind, but the next day, it’s an embarrassing pile of crap.

            But once in a while there’s a gem. For me, on the basis of that possibility, it’s worth it. And writing down these things ends speculating about them. Or at least appreciably helps do so.

          2. minkfoot
            minkfoot April 26, 2014 at 2:24 pm |

            That sounds like I’m saying writing notes during zazen is like writing tons of crap on speed. Or possibly saying that finding a gem in that crap justifies the use of speed. Neither was my intent. And my involvement with speed was brief and long ago.

  31. Fred
    Fred April 25, 2014 at 10:47 am |

    “Ajahn Chah would use the words ‘the reality of non-grasping’ as the definition for Nibbæna: realizing the reality of non-grasping. That helps to put it in a context because the emphasis is on awakening to how we grasp and hold on
    even to words like ‘Nibbæna’ or ‘Buddhism’ or ‘practice’ or ‘søla’ or whatever.”

    Ajahn Chah was a dead void heretic in the book I read. The flame in the flesh was
    blown out.

  32. Daniel CosmicBrainz
    Daniel CosmicBrainz April 25, 2014 at 10:53 am |

    Fred… don’t touch your nose! That’s a literal suggestion. No symbolism is intended. (I just touched my nose, literally).

  33. Steve
    Steve April 25, 2014 at 10:57 am |

    Fred…i enjoyed that interview with that Shimano guy. i was confused about the whole “new man/old man” stuff though until I got to the commercial and realized that “the new man” was the name of the podcast and not something the Shimano guy was teaching. I wonder if their podcasts on “how to cope with blue balls” and “staying out of the friend zone” are as interesting. But I don’t know that I’m going to get around to listening to them.

  34. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer April 25, 2014 at 1:04 pm |


    Substitute painting for writing, alcohol for speed and I have seen exactly the same thing.

    A.E. Houseman said it perfectly,

    “And carried half way home, or near,
    Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
    Then the world seemed none so bad,
    And I myself a sterling lad;
    And down in lovely muck I’ve lain,
    Happy till I woke again.
    Then I saw the morning sky:
    Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
    The world, it was the old world yet,
    I was I, my things were wet,
    And nothing now remained to do
    But begin the game anew. ”


    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot April 26, 2014 at 2:27 pm |

      “Oh, man! I shoulda taken the blue pill!”

  35. boubi
    boubi April 25, 2014 at 1:42 pm |

    To call things by incorrect names is to add to the world’s misery
    Albert Camus.


    A big problem when this happens over here is that our Western tradition has a bad history of moving from statements like “my religion is the best” to “let’s kill everyone who doesn’t believe in it” very quickly. Witness the Crusades and contemporary Islamic terrorism.

    1 – Our western tradition has nothing to do with islamic terrorism, be it contemporary or of yore

    2 – Crusades had nothing to do with “my religion is the best” causing “let’s kill everyone who doesn’t believe in it”.
    It was an answer to the jihad started in VII century, that reached western europe and was still occupying hiberic peninsula and some other places.
    It was the liberation of holy sites.

    3 – Wars of religion started some 1000 years after Jesus, while the shia-sunna slaughter started a few years after Mahomet.
    We stopped (to my knowledge) in the 18th century, for the others please have a look at the news (Syria etc)

    I don’t consider myself christian nor do i endorse any type of military operation.

    This said this is history, not some energy sponsored revisionist story.

  36. boubi
    boubi April 25, 2014 at 1:47 pm |

    “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”
    ”• George Orwell, 1984

    So, please let’s not spread some “new speach” revisionist stories, instead than history.

    And yes, i am scared of forms of totalitarian thoughts.

  37. boubi
    boubi April 25, 2014 at 2:22 pm |

    Dogen was a great master.

    The problem lays with the mind narrowness of the truer than true of his followers.

    Dogen was a person as anybody else.

    He had issues with the Tendai imperial establishment (nobility), with the expansion of Rinzai through the military class, that is with the two dominating groups holding cash, power and influence , he had thus to differentiate his offer/school from the rest.

    He used koans in the beginning, he latter refused them and started to criticize China’s Chan, Rinzai and anything that wasn’t his own, in the end he had a more radical view of things.

    I repeat it, in all the time i went to Rinzai i never heard any negative remark about Soto, the only time the teacher said something has been that we sat facing the center while Soto faced the wall, that’s all. What was not related to the practice was out of the picture, non relevant.

    He told me once “they do it in a different way, in the end it’s the same”.

    While every time i got in touch with Soto the first things were “Rinzai sold koans in the middle age” (it’s pure bullshit, you cannot do it, ask anybody who practiced), and other useless disparaging remarks … as if still in 13th century Japan, and brainwashing from the start.

    Is it a way to open minds?

    I find it plain ridiculous if not borderline … (guess what).

    Dharma is this?

  38. roman
    roman April 25, 2014 at 2:29 pm |

    with this intellectual attitude, arguing forever about different concepts, there is absolutely no chance to understand what Buddhism is about

    it is absolutely vital to trust at least one living teacher, meet him or her and learn from him or her / then such foolish discussions about what is what can be moved to a different level

    but it takes one awfully sincere person to start styding and practicing Buddhism, what some people show here in discussion is nothing but emtpy arguments helping nobody – we already know that lots of people are wrong, now we need a buddha to show us the way – a buddha is above endless intellectual rants, and shows us how to transcend the intellect and realize the truth

    or we can choose to listen to pretentious fools and liars and believe them and their concepts of the world – happy journey, no, thanks, I’d rather listen to true people who don’t lie – it’s not so difficult to tell a liar from a true person, but it requires that we stop lying to ourselves absolutely and are willing to accept even bitter criticism, if it weren’t for people like Brad, I don’t know what I would do in this stupid world full of hatred and lies, commint suicide I guess, Dharma, its purity is the only thing I can rely on in this mess and people like Brad shows us clearly the way to the truth, but cowards can never accept that, can never accept something as bold and naked as Dharma of Kodo Sawaki, it’s only for bold and true people

    1. boubi
      boubi April 25, 2014 at 2:40 pm |

      if it weren’t for people like Brad, I don’t know what I would do in this stupid world full of hatred and lies, commint suicide I guess

      shows us clearly the way to the truth, but cowards can never accept that, can never accept something as bold and naked as Dharma of Kodo Sawaki, it’s only for bold and true people

      WOW, you must be one of those brave and bold and naked and true and awfully sincere person.

      now we need a buddha to show us the way — a buddha is above endless intellectual rants, and shows us how to transcend the intellect and realize the truth
      Right show me one when you see it, btw how can you know it’s real one?

      Brad is a nice and honest guy, but to be all that you expect from him???

      If it is the truth of unconditioned sitting, most probably, i don’t know if he can conceive any other, ask him.


    2. boubi
      boubi April 25, 2014 at 2:46 pm |

      with this intellectual attitude, arguing forever about different concepts, there is absolutely no chance to understand what Buddhism is about

      It’s not arguying about intellectual concepts, the question is intellectual-less and is :

      Is zen buddy-ism?
      What is buddy-ism?
      What is zen?

      What the *&¨#$* are we talking about here?

  39. boubi
    boubi April 25, 2014 at 2:31 pm |

    About the remarks on Ta-Hui

    The first written and completed in 1235, the Shinji Shōbōgenzō, also known as the Mana Shōbōgenzō or Shōbōgenzō Sanbyakusoku is a collection of 301 koans (public cases) and is written in Chinese, the language of the original texts from which the koans were taken.

    In his Dogen’s Manuals of Zen Meditation, Carl Bielefeldt acknowledges that Dogen likely took the title from Dahui for his first Shōbōgenzō koan collection and kept it for his following Shōbōgenzō commentary collection:

    Indeed the fact that Dōgen styled his effort “Shōbō genzō” suggests that he had as his model a similar compilation of the same title by the most famous of Sung masters, Ta-Hui Tsung-kao. Unlike the latter, Dōgen was content here simply to record the stories without interjecting his own remarks. A few years later, however, he embarked on a major project to develop extended commentaries on many of these and other passages from the Ch’an literature. The fruit of this project was his masterpiece–the remarkable collection of essays known as the kana, or “vernacular”, Shōbō genzō. (p. 46.)

    Now first you copy the guy then you said that he was some kind of scroundel?
    Dogen was very critical of the teacher Ta Hui (called Daie Sōkō in Japanese) and his followers particularly when it came to their use of koans as a method of attempting to induce enlightenment experiences

    Here i like the induce wording, as if it was some kind of “illicite state” coming from some controlled substance, bravo!

    WOW !

  40. roman
    roman April 25, 2014 at 2:40 pm |

    Zazen is the best because it’s beyond categories, beyond words, evaluation, human ideas, opinions, right, wrong, Buddha, buddha, enlightenment, it is just plain truth, nothing else and if you add religious or philosophical ideas or holiness to zazen or arguments, it it not zazen any more. To say that dharma is the best or this teacher knows the truth is nothing but saying Hello, welcome, what can we do for you? Only superficial people think that saying Best in buddhism means best in the ususal sense. Buddhism has nothing to do with the usual way of thinking, it is beyond usual way of thinking so usual arguments are useless in Buddhism. You have to let go of your usual arguments and understanding and become stupid, not stupid to be brainwashed, but so stupid that not even bad people can change your stupid attitude, so you cannot be a victim of any manipulation, as much as a flower cannot be brainwashed. No matter how much you talk to a flower, you will never convert it into any – ism. This immunity and purity is Dharma being expressed and received. There is no room for silly arguments. Who cares about theravada, mahayana or any kind of religion? Buddha is just your original self, nothing more. But this talk is useless unless you put its meaning into practice, practice that transcends talk and clever ideas.

    1. boubi
      boubi April 25, 2014 at 2:51 pm |

      Tried a supporting group?

      It helps

  41. boubi
    boubi April 25, 2014 at 2:48 pm |

    dharma is the best


    Gravity is the best, followed by the weak interaction force, ask anybody

  42. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz April 25, 2014 at 2:58 pm |

    ” Crusades had nothing to do with “my religion is the best” causing “let’s kill everyone who doesn’t believe in it”.
    It was an answer to the jihad started in VII century, that reached western europe and was still occupying hiberic peninsula and some other places.”

    Give some sources because I call bullshit on this.

    What a massive oversimplification! You make it seem like the Christians were totally in the right during the Crusades. What a load of ****.

    Mainstream* Islam and Mainstream* Christianity (i.e., the non-esoteric, panentheistic branches) are both brothers in how much damage they have wrought to the world.

    Both are still going at it.

    I wish there was an ignore function. I’m sick of you.

  43. boubi
    boubi April 25, 2014 at 3:47 pm |

    Here are the sources.

    The word jihad appears in 23 Quranic verses….
    Jihad means “to struggle in the way of Allah”. Jihad appears 41 times in the Quran

    wikipedia : Jihad
    the Quran was verbally revealed from God to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel (Jibril), gradually over a period of approximately 23 years, beginning on 22 December 609 CE,[8] when Muhammad was 40, and concluding in 632 CE, the year of his death

    The First Crusade (1096—1099) started as a widespread pilgrimage (France and Germany) and ended as a military expedition by Roman Catholic Europe to regain the Holy Lands taken in the Muslim conquests of the Levant (632—661)

    You can call whatever you want in whatever way you want, but crusades came after the jihad and the west has nothing to do with islamic terror.

    Try and learn history instead.

  44. boubi
    boubi April 25, 2014 at 3:54 pm |

    You can call bullshit on whatever you feel inclined to, but you’ve just once more shown your insecurity, ignorance and historical bias.

    Why do you defend islam while you declare yourself non-muslim, some form of takya by chance? Or just westernophobia?

    You’re lucky because here you don’t risk to get hanged for expressing a different point of view contrary to what happens there.

    Btw, do you call bullshit also on the first and third points?

    1. Shodo
      Shodo April 25, 2014 at 5:09 pm |

      For what it’s worth…
      I typed in “Who started the Crusades?” into google, and got the following response:

      “The Crusades were military campaigns sanctioned by the Latin Roman Catholic Church during the High Middle Ages through to the end of the Late Middle Ages. In 1095 Pope Urban II proclaimed the first crusade, with the stated goal of restoring Christian access to the holy places in and near Jerusalem.”

      1. CosmicBrainz
        CosmicBrainz April 25, 2014 at 5:18 pm |

        Ignore Boubi, Shodo.

        He is really a biased asshole.

  45. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz April 25, 2014 at 5:17 pm |

    Boubi, like I’ve said, if there were a ignore button, you’d be the only one on it.

    You have defended Christianity NUMEROUS times. When I defended Islam you refer to me as being historical inaccurate or even a Westernphobe. You have even whimsically and incoherently recommended Brad Warner to go to a Christian Church, yet you have the audacity to claim I am committing taqiyya? What annoys me about your message is you made many stabs at Islam while placing Christianity in a better light, and then you end with the obvious lie, “I am not a Christian.” Why not respect both religions while acknowledging their bloody histories? Honestly, I do not know how one can argue Christianity or Islam is more brutal than the other one, or vice versa, when we look at their human rights violations from a historical vantage point. Really, just come out already: you are a prejudiced person who is letting his view be skewed by the contemporary turmoil of Islamic countries.

    The fact you constantly proclaimed yourself a being black in the past, while you constantly felt like conveying your gender queer preferences, makes you come off as having an inferiority complex; your vigilant belittling of Islamic cultures at the expense of glorifying Judeo-Christian ones makes you come off as absolutely pathetic.

    I’m telling you the crusades, regardless of who started it, had equal amounts of bloodshed and bigotry from both sides. Mainstream Christians burned and dance around cats, drowned their own women, and etc. There were obvious exceptions with people like Bruno and Meister Eckhart, but this also existed in Islam in the form of Mansur-al Hallaj (who like Bruno was executed by the mainstream Muslims).

    If you’re going to keep being biased and view Christianity as being more “civilized”, then I really wish there was an ignore button. Your ignorance of geopolitics, the nuisances of history, and etc. pisses me off.

    What did you get your education in? Being a fucking pastor?

    1. boubi
      boubi April 26, 2014 at 2:41 am |

      Keep on rambling

      1. CosmicBrainz
        CosmicBrainz April 26, 2014 at 8:59 am |

        You keep rambling prejudiced shit too while showing your obvious biases (i.e., insulting Islamic heritages and then praising Christianity like it is somehow superior).

        No one takes that sort of talk from you seriously either.

  46. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote April 25, 2014 at 5:23 pm |

    ‘“the anxiety I feel when I give up control”

    IMHO “grasping” is just this: holding on to the illusion of control.’

    I would have to say 10-4 on that, copy; the amygdala in action, maybe I need a board like those monks in the clip from Monty Python.

  47. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote April 25, 2014 at 5:26 pm |

    ok, not really, but my god these mirror reflections from the early, early days! How these things unwind, gently, gently, I hope. The back has amazing lessons today, lying in a coffin under the ground probably does too (thanks, Harry H) but I hope I’m not going there…

Comments are closed.