“Monasticism? Didn’t Even KNOW Him!” or “Does Monastic Practice Teach Discipline of Obedience?”

Dogen wrote a piece for Shobogenzo called Shukke Kudoku or “In Praise of Home Leaving.” It’s probably the best example of what has become one of the most problematic aspects of Dogen’s writings for Western lay Buddhist followers of the Soto tradition. This is the chapter in which he most emphatically states that the only way anyone can ever hope to truly understand the Buddha Way or become enlightened is to be a home-leaving celibate monastery dwelling monk. There are a couple other places where he says things like this. But Shukke Kudokuis the one where he really lays it on.

This chapter is the one mainly responsible for the often repeated assertion that Dogen in his younger days favored lay practice but later changed his mind and decided that only monastic Buddhism really mattered. This is the chapter in which he famously says, “Breaking of the precepts having left family life (become a monk) is better than keeping the precepts as a layperson, because with the precepts of a layperson we do not realize liberation.” Then a couple pages later he says it again just in case you forgot.

The chapter is problematic not only for the way it makes all of us who don’t live in monasteries and yet do try to follow Dogen’s philosophy and practice feel bad. It isn’t clear exactly what this chapter was intended for. The colophon at the end states that it was copied by his student Ejo in 1255, two years after Dogen died. However, it was included in the 12 chapter edition of Shobogenzo, which was one of the first editions ever produced.

The chapter itself is repetitive and a bit unfocused, if you ask me. It reads like the rough drafts I often produce in which I just write a whole lot of things down with the intention of removing many of them later after I reread it and decide which parts work best. Even so, it’s definitely Dogen’s writing and he must have intended it as something. In 1246 he delivered a similar speech about home leaving. This one doesn’t say that it’s better to break the precepts as a monk than keep them as a lay person. But it does say that becoming a monk is “as important as your head.”

A good Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) sponsor will tell her sponsee that AA is the only way to get sober, that you have to follow all twelve steps if you want to get well, that without AA you’ll be lost to the ravages of the Demon Alcohol forever. These are not objective truths. There are people who get off the sauce without AA and there are people who follow all twelve steps and still end up drunks. But part of making AA work is for sponsors to instill confidence in those who follow the plan. One of the best ways to do that is to tell the sponsee that only AA can ever possibly help them.

Nobody will ever know for sure if Dogen really had a complete change of heart regarding lay practice or if he was being like a good AA sponsor trying to instill confidence in the monastic path to his monks in a snowy, remote monastery where life must have been pretty tough. There is evidence that he was re-working some of his more pro-lay practice pieces even while he was writing stuff like Shukke Kudoku. Nobody ever asked him straight out whether or not he’d changed his mind on the subject. Or if they did they never wrote down his answer.

But does it really matter what Dogen thought? He was just a guy, after all. He could’ve been wrong even if he really did believe that monasticism was the only way. While I’d be as interested as anyone else to know if he actually changed his mind or not, in the end my practice here in the 21st century is something at once very different from what Dogen wrote about as well as being exactly the same.

In any case, I thought a lot about monasticism while I was at Tassajara Zen Mountain Monastery from mid-August through mid-September. While I was serving up delicious gourmet food to the paying guests who support the monastery (see photo above) I was also trying to come to terms with my own ambivalent feelings about monasticism and lay practice.

Watching what went on at Tassajara I kept wondering if the practice there and at other Zen monasteries teaches discipline or obedience. I had always sort of assumed that the point of spending a month or three months or several years in a place where they ring bells to wake you up way too early, make you submit an official excuse every time you miss zazen practice or service, train you to do all kinds of jobs that keep the monastery running and so forth was to instill a sense of discipline. It was my belief that the purpose of all that was to show you what being disciplined was like so that you could go home and behave in a disciplined way without anyone ringing bells at you or giving you a hard time when you failed to perform.

But if that’s what it’s supposed to do, I’m not sure it really works. Many of the people I met at Tassajara don’t really do much Zen practice when they’re not in a place where they have to. I’m not talking about just sleeping in later than five in the morning or not chanting sutras. I don’t get up nearly that early when at home, nor do I chant very often. But a lot of folks who do monastic training don’t even end up doing any zazen at all after they’re finished with a practice period or whatever course of training they’ve chosen. This is even more true in Japan where your average temple-dwelling monk is highly unlikely to do any zazen at all except during a specific training period, which they avoid as much as they possibly can.

And if monastic practice fails to instill in a person the will to do zazen as a daily part of their normal life, what good is it? If it just teaches monks to obey those in power, how does this benefit anyone in any way?

I can’t really say. Maybe it does a lot of good. Who would undertake such a thing if they didn’t feel there was some benefit? Still, I think daily sitting is way more important than doing intensive practice for a little while and then dropping it. And I disagree with Dogen. It is better to keep the precepts as a lay person than to break them as a monk.

(Oh! And here’s a nice article about the Hare Krishnas and their version of monastic practice by my friend Darrah.)

***

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48 Responses

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  1. wbtphdjd
    wbtphdjd September 23, 2012 at 2:14 pm | |

    I’m reminded of all the boys in high school who automatically, one might say blindly, did whatever the coaches told them to do, while I remained, as usual, defiant. Many of them are now fat, to my mind indicating that they have no independent moral compass, while I, at 47, still weigh about what I did in high school. Discipline is far superior to obedience.

  2. gniz
    gniz September 23, 2012 at 2:16 pm | |

    Nice article. I always wonder what the folks at Tassajara think after you write an article like this (you’ve said similar kinds of thinks previously).

    Anyway, I sort of think this is just the way it is everywhere. Most people don’t do things wholeheartedly, whatever it is they might be attempting.

    People trying to lose weight often don’t follow their prescribed diets or workout plans.

    People trying to become actors often don’t work hard enough at their craft, don’t go on enough auditions, give up when things get tough.

    Writers stop writing after they’ve received a bunch of mean rejection letters…

    Zen is likely no different. It’s not that monasteries don’t work well, it’s just that in general people don’t really apply themselves to anything they do 100 percent.

    Learning to have enough focus and determination (and belief) to really practice anything day in and day out is something very few people (relatively) accomplish in life.

  3. Daigan
    Daigan September 23, 2012 at 2:32 pm | |

    I think practice at Tassajara is completely different from the Summer, and that if you want to know what life is like at Tassajara the Monastery you need to go in the Fall or Winter. In the summer you have the guest resort run with some semblance of zen stuff.

    It is like judging school by summer break.. it’s just a different experience.

  4. Fred
    Fred September 23, 2012 at 3:41 pm | |

    “This is even more true in Japan where your average temple-dwelling monk is highly unlikely to do any zazen at all except during a specific training period, which they avoid as much as they possibly can”

    That is amazing.

  5. Pausha
    Pausha September 23, 2012 at 4:33 pm | |

    I wonder if what Dogen meant was the literal home-leaving and becoming a monk that was supposed to be so very beneficial to the practice, or did he mean the state of mind, or the space that results from leaving behind one’s life and all the ways, habits and attachments that go with it.

    I have left my life twice now, moved to a different country and started “all over again”. Each time I was struck by the state of constant presence I was forced into. All my safety was gone, my home was gone, my routines were gone. I could no longer space out and let my life run on autopilot. I had to be present and aware of life every minute of every hour. I had to pay attention to every little detail, to all the details that just “took care of themselves” before.

    Granted it only lasts for a few months, soon enough new routines are created and I can space out again, but still the time of leaving home is extremely powerful. And the attachments to things and places, when they return, are not as strong as they once were.

  6. Jinzang
    Jinzang September 23, 2012 at 4:56 pm | |

    Maybe monastic practice is for those who don’t have the discipline to get up at five and practice for two hours on their own. Which I suppose is most of us (raises hand guiltily.)

  7. Ted
    Ted September 23, 2012 at 6:31 pm | |

    Oh nooo! I _love_ the bells! We don’t have anything like that at Diamond Mountain!

  8. Matt from Houston
    Matt from Houston September 23, 2012 at 6:42 pm | |

    First, as someone who got sober in a 12 Step rehab and has stayed sober for almost a year without a 12 Step program, I totally agree with your assessment here. The idea that sobriety is impossible without the program is a necessary fiction, one you had damn well better believe if you are going to engage wholeheartedly. And wholehearted engagement with a thorough program of sobriety is life or death for a lot of addicts. I sure love AA even if I didn’t end up needing as badly as I could have, thank God.

    As to the discipline vs. obedience question, certainly it depends on the practitioner, right? I mean, it can’t create discipline in someone who doesn’t want it, so maybe they just end up spending their vacation obeying some guys in robes and that’s their weird choice. But for those who understand the need for discipline in practice, do you think it encourages that? Did it encourage your disciplined practice?

    Two random things now: did you meet our sanghamate Royce while you were there? And I saw you almost did an AMA at the Buddhism reddit. You should go through with that at some point.

  9. rtmyers
    rtmyers September 23, 2012 at 7:53 pm | |

    For reference, here’s something from Bendowa:

    Q13. Do I have to enter a monastic live to follow your practice? Can normal people do it too?

    A13. The patriarchs teach that there are no distinctions of gender or status as to who can grasp the buddhadharma.

    Q14. But monks can leave behind all the cares of daily life and devote themselves completely to the zazen path of devotion. How can those pursuing the affairs of the material world dedicate themselves to practice and fulfill the natural Buddha way?

    A14. The patriarchs have in their great benevolence opened to us the vast gate of compassion, that each and every living being might achieve realization. Absolutely anyone may enter. This has been amply proven both in the past and the present. For example, emperors and statesmen, however preoccupied, have nevertheless devoted themselves to the way of zazen and penetrated the great path of the patriarchs. So it simply depends on your commitment, not on whether or not you have left the world behind to become a monk. Anyone possessed of a keen ability to discern excellence will be drawn to believe. Imagining that your daily activities could interfere with the buddhadharma, you’re really saying you think that the Buddha’s law doesn’t exist within the world, but that’s backwards. It’s the world’s law that doesn’t exist within the Buddha.

    This is from my translation in First Dogen Book, now available in Kindle format at http://www.amazon.com/First-Dogen-Book-ebook/dp/B008Y0YJ6E.

  10. Andrew
    Andrew September 23, 2012 at 8:28 pm | |

    after many years and being probably one of the few people my age today who has lived a mostly celibate life i can see how impossible it is to give adequate attention if you have a family or are in a relationship !

    your first priority is your family or partner and infinity/buddha comes second !

    as the one authentic realised master alive today i have that freedom which is necessary to pursue this, like look at the all the abuse and rejection i get on the message boards and blogs, ordinary life does not permit a person to hang around in that sort of environment, i do it because i pursue what infinity is about and generally it’s quite productive in a drab way ; o )

    just last night after a bruising bout on zafu frogs blog, i finally figured why shallow idiots like him think zazen is like some sort of final answer, it’s because you are all family men or if you don’t have families, are bound up in the pursuit of sex and partners, from this activity base zazen looks like something, but it’s a crooked shadow of buddha !

    i don’t know wether you will pass this post or not, but your limitation is you find the need to moderate me, for myself i have put the attention and work in and am covered wether this post makes your new hczb or not, and that’s basically the difference between us, for me buddha/infinity is first and you all compromise and are compromised with your really first priorites which are your narcisstic selves and lives : o )

    it’s not monasticism but celibacy dogen was saying is a pre-condition

    maybe it’s a removal from the cycle of life, pursuing your continuity in children, however indirect that may be, is too strong a conflict with realizing life as a desert and limited and pointless : o )

    tassajara is a toxic hell hole btw !

    in that pic booze and unleavened bread, what an unhealthy combination.

    it’s no good working like that, you need heaps of real solitude

  11. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 23, 2012 at 8:53 pm | |

    Here’s a brief review of the importance of obedience in lay life: Foghorn Leghorn.

  12. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 23, 2012 at 9:01 pm | |

    Here’s Issho Fujita, demonstrating something about zazen that’s true for lay person or monk, but harder to realize in a chair, for sure:

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/images/photos2011/fl20110219a1b.jpg

    Here’s what he said in the accompanying article, which is here (only get 1 link per comment without moderation so fill in the http://):

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20110219a1.html

    “People are not so different, in Japan or in America; they both need the same care. Buddhism was started 2,500 years ago in India; it has to be updated, particularly Japanese Buddhism. How to renew, revitalize Buddhism has become my personal and professional homework. How can people use Buddhism, how can they get benefit from it?

    “Otherwise, Buddhism is just an antique in the museum showcase. It is happening now: A temple in Japan may function only as a place for a memorial service or for sightseeing.”

  13. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 23, 2012 at 9:02 pm | |

    excuse the dupe (or maybe delete it, Jaycee?)

    Here’s Issho Fujita, demonstrating something about zazen that’s true for lay person or monk, but harder to realize in a chair, for sure:

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/images/photos2011/fl20110219a1b.jpg

  14. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 23, 2012 at 9:15 pm | |

    (mir culpe, mir culpe- didn’t realize WordPress would add the http back in, so pardon if it’s a dupe)

    Here’s what he said in the accompanying article, which is here:

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20110219a1.html

    “People are not so different, in Japan or in America; they both need the same care. Buddhism was started 2,500 years ago in India; it has to be updated, particularly Japanese Buddhism. How to renew, revitalize Buddhism has become my personal and professional homework. How can people use Buddhism, how can they get benefit from it?

    “Otherwise, Buddhism is just an antique in the museum showcase. It is happening now: A temple in Japan may function only as a place for a memorial service or for sightseeing.”

    This is the feeling I get at many Zen centers in America, I’m in a museum of Japanese culture where it’s easy to wind up like the Aikido master who got punched in the face (there’s video, but only one link per comment…)- that is to say, it’s easy to wind up believing that the mastery which I have acquired has meaning for people outside the circle of folks with whom I practice.

    The practice to me has to do with internal happiness, with a state of mind like waking up and falling asleep, and it’s not different from feeling my way along from where I am.

  15. Koro Kaisan Miles
    Koro Kaisan Miles September 23, 2012 at 9:40 pm | |

    I have come to recognize that about 90% of what is being taught as Zen is really not Zen at all, but rather dormitory training. Simply a systematic way of teaching people who live in close proximity with one another how to avoid collisions. Just like learning how to drive a car, follow the rules and you don’t crash (as often).

    We use the word discipline in funny way. Discipline is not imposed from the outside, it is always self imposed. The phrase self-discipline is a redundant statement. When we choose to practice a discipline we have made ourselves a disciple of that particular practice. This is what discipline means, if it is imposed from outside it is not discipline, but rather obedience; a submission to authority and conformity to regulation.

    This becomes very obvious when someone leaves their practice behind until the next scheduled group event. Living in a monastery for a while, or practicing Zen in a room full of fellow wannabe’s twice a week is not a discipline, but rather a form of exhibitionism. I believe that Jesus of Nazareth summed this kind of practice up quite succinctly in the book of Mathew (6.5-6.6):

    “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the temples and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth (by being seen) they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray in private. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

    A 21st century Buddha may of said it something like this:

    “When you practice, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to sit in the meditation hall and stay in the monastery to be seen as monks. By doing so, they receive the recognition they were after as their reward. But when you practice on your own as a form of discipline, without exhibition, your practice will become its own will reward.”

    Zen is not about where you are, or who you are practicing with, it’s about realizing your true nature and living in the Dharma. Bodhidharma practiced in a cave with no one around, I’m sure that when Jesus went into the desert to “pray” he was doing exactly the same thing; practicing his discipline… alone.

  16. Fred
    Fred September 24, 2012 at 4:12 am | |

    “. Imagining that your daily activities could interfere with the buddhadharma, you’re really saying you think that the Buddha’s law doesn’t exist within the world, but that’s backwards. It’s the world’s law that doesn’t exist within the Buddha.”

    When the inside and the outside are the same, you are the world and everything
    in it, including its law.

    Ram Dass use to say that it’s all grist for the mill of awakening. He also use to
    talk about the sat guru and the upa guru. There are people and things in every
    day life that indirectly act on you and “the backwards step to turning the light
    inward”

  17. AnneMH
    AnneMH September 24, 2012 at 5:28 am | |

    it is interesting, Of course I am not in a monastary so I will have to do what I can with a lay practice like all of us. I always wonder about the metaphor of anything, including ‘home leaving’, even though Dogen seems to write more directly than that. Taken more as metaphor then it could be that home leaving is about leaving that attachment, the feeling that home and habits are more important than anything else and putting practice second,

    It is sad to hear that many people who have put so much effort into getting to a retreat do not continue practice at home. I know practice at home is different, there are a thousand distractions and reasons to talk yourself out of practice after all. However discipline in any area is about being able to take that outside structure and create internal discipline.

  18. gniz
    gniz September 24, 2012 at 6:30 am | |

    Koro Kaisan Miles, I really like the way you phrased this comment you made above.

    My personal practice is just that–personal. I could probably call myself a Buddhist and belong to a Buddhist group of some kind. But I don’t have much interest in that, because at the end of the day, I need to do my discipline on my own.

    It’s a moment to moment practice that nobody can do for me, and labeling myself doesn’t change it very much, from my perspective. So although I don’t begrudge anybody the right to call themselves Buddhist and to do retreats in a monastery, Brad’s conclusions about what he’s seen at Tassajara are not at all shocking to me.

    Discipline is basically a unique and individual act, and it is hard won. I don’t create discipline in myself by obeying someone else blindly, I get it by using my own mind and body to spur myself into some kind of action.

    There is no substitute for walking my own path and taking the responsibility of it on my own shoulders.

  19. blake
    blake September 24, 2012 at 6:48 am | |

    How is waking up when someone else rings a bell “discipline”? How is doing what you are told to do in the field “discipline”? Seems more like obedience to me.

    Don’t get me wrong! I would love to spend more time at a monastery (I spent a short time at Green Gulch) but It didn’t teach me discipline. It just taught me how to wake up early.

  20. Bryan C
    Bryan C September 24, 2012 at 7:46 am | |

    I’ve long thought that one of the difficulties with zen center is that we’re (I’ve lived at Tassajara and Green Gulch Farm for 7 years) trying to enact and adapt a training that evolved over centuries as an excellent method for training adolescent males, but with a community of men and women of all ages. So from the ages of 21-26 or so, it was perfect training for me and I actually did need the discipline and greatly benefitted from it. But now I definitely understand when a mother of three says, “I don’t really need this.” This training is not universal. And there’s a kind of tug of war between those who want it to be more “Japanese” or more “monastic” and those who are open to, as Noah Levine put it, a buddhism that includes Cadillacs and cheeseburgers. I think things will continue to evolve and change and hopefully we will have a type of monastic practice which won’t result in people being dependent on the context of a residential temple to be inspired to sit everyday. I definitely wish for a temple life that feels relevant to the greater world. Maybe urban temples offer that, I’ve never lived at one.

  21. boubi
    boubi September 24, 2012 at 8:10 am | |

    Hi Brad

    First
    Your account of Soto monastry is really opposite from what related by my Rinzai former teacher.
    Shofuku-ji or Mioshin-ji were run as Marines corp barracks (the way you see in the movies in order to explain to USA readers), no fucking around and a koan hanging on top of your skull or rather trying to crash you.

    I have the impression that the monastry life you experienced should be rather different from the one of Dogen’s time.

    Second
    I admire you for saying the plain evidence, Dogen was just a guy, maybe a genius in his own kind, but still a guy.

    What i think is better in monastry life is that you are (should be) totally focused on your practice. In the one i went to (Rinzai) even outside sesshins, you had many hours of sitting, while sesshin was kind when you don’t sit is when you get short breaks, short meals or a few short hours of sleep. Another thing is that when your life is regulated like in monastry or army, you just forget about yourself.
    I even found it funny in the army to jump as soon as some moron told us to, just as a reflex, he shouts you do it, and the more you shout answering, the more the moron is happy, and the more you shout. And they think you are totally gung-ho while you are just pulling their legs (there should be another stronger expression). And you just volunteer for any crazy shit.

    BTW in Europe you had to go, it was compulsory.

  22. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 24, 2012 at 8:48 am | |

    “I don’t create discipline in myself by obeying someone else blindly, I get it by using my own mind and body to spur myself into some kind of action.” Or to make self-surrender the object of thought, unmoving inaction the state of mind:

    “Right where you stand, you must pass through to freedom. You must see the original face and walk through the scenery of the fundamental ground. You do not change your ordinary actions, yet outside and inside are One Suchness. You act according to the natural flow and do not set up anything as particularly special–you are no different than an ordinary person.” (“Zen Letters, Teachings of Yuanwu” trans. Cleary & Cleary pg 75, letter “Joyously Alive”)

  23. HaliRob
    HaliRob September 24, 2012 at 8:51 am | |

    Seems like Dogen leaves very little room for interpretation in this specific example cited by Brad. Maybe it is problematic to adhere very strictly to a single person’s work.

    I must agree that for most people, in Dogen’s time and our own, it is very difficult to find the discipline necessary to live our way on our own.

    I also agree that Dogen was just a guy, and like other people he can be wrong. That maybe it is not so terrible that our way is different than Dogen’s way.

    We each know what the truth is, whether we can get beyond our habitual misguided view of it may be different for everyone. Some may need the monastic practice, and some may not. Some may practice monasticism and not find their own way, but it seems that it’s no big deal either way, because we know what works for us and why.

  24. HaliRob
    HaliRob September 24, 2012 at 8:57 am | |

    Blake wrote:

    How is waking up when someone else rings a bell “discipline”? How is doing what you are told to do in the field “discipline”? Seems more like obedience to me.

    My reflection on my basic military training is that for me, it takes a lot of self discipline to be obedient. Always with the thought in the back of my mind that the reason for the severity expressed in sed training, is to make the real experience easier.

    Though, we always have to come back to the real experience don’t we? When we find out that the “real” experience is easier but that the “severe” training has prepared us well, we can perform better in the “real” world.

  25. anon 108
    anon 108 September 24, 2012 at 9:19 am | |

    - Bumping Bob Myers (“rtmyers”) translation of Bendowa, included in “First Dogen Book,” linked @7.53pm.

    In addition to the link BM gave, “First Dogen Book” can also be found here:
    http://www.bob.myers.name/dogen/First%20Dogen%20Book.pdf

    “First Dogen Book” contains translations of four chapters of Shobogenzo, accompanied by lots and lots of fascinating notes. Not so much notes as complete essays, with notes – engrossing and revealing essay/notes, exploring in depth key problematic aspects of the original text and others’ attempts to render them into English. Very good stuff. Not necessarily correct, but certainly very good. Very original translations clarified by very original notes.

    (Don’t be put off by the “monastic live” misprint in the first sentence of Q13 from Bendowa, quoted above. “Monastic life” is what he meant, I say.)

  26. AnneMH
    AnneMH September 24, 2012 at 10:02 am | |

    it is interesting, Of course I am not in a monastary so I will have to do what I can with a lay practice like all of us. I always wonder about the metaphor of anything, including ‘home leaving’, even though Dogen seems to write more directly than that. Taken more as metaphor then it could be that home leaving is about leaving that attachment, the feeling that home and habits are more important than anything else and putting practice second,

    It is sad to hear that many people who have put so much effort into getting to a retreat do not continue practice at home. I know practice at home is different, there are a thousand distractions and reasons to talk yourself out of practice after all. However discipline in any area is about being able to take that outside structure and create internal discipline. I know from working in many things in life that transmitting that internal discipline to someone else is very unlikely unless they see the need for it themselves.

  27. nozenji
    nozenji September 24, 2012 at 10:57 am | |

    I really like what Koro and Bryan C said. I went to Tassajara as an alternative to suicide. It worked very well for that and I’m very very thankful it existed. A place where I could live with kind and compassionate people, and, I could afford it. It saved my life, literally. (BTW – Bryan C. – I was 25 yrs old ). However, I later came to study with Joko Beck who felt that all of us who are trying to be wise and compassionate people need to be out in society, working for a living, where we are really needed.

    1. AnneMH
      AnneMH September 24, 2012 at 11:26 am | |

      Oh I would have loved to hear Joko Beck talk. What I have read of her books just have a wonderful grandmotherly compassion, but she didn’t seem like any sort of softie in other ways. If that makes any sense, just a strictness in what matters but with compassion.

      I have found a few places here in Colorado that are gorgeous and may offer a similar type of work/study that is affordable. I am trying a 2 day retreat this weekend with a group.

  28. nozenji
    nozenji September 24, 2012 at 11:04 am | |

    ps. As for Dogen, I agree, he may have been brilliant, but that doesn’t mean he was right about everything. Also, he lived in a VERY DIFFERENT WORLD.

  29. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 24, 2012 at 1:58 pm | |

    “I know from working in many things in life that transmitting that internal discipline to someone else is very unlikely unless they see the need for it themselves.”

    Hear, hear!

    I would like to think that zazen, like the standing practice in Chinese martial arts, puts me into a position to realize activity out of the necessity of breath. I experience a relationship between the location of my awareness in space (“turning the light around”) and my ability to feel throughout my body to the surface of the skin, and I discover the location of my awareness and the corresponding ability to feel is necessary to realize the natural length of this inhalation, or to realize the natural length of this exhalation. If I stay in one posture long enough, and I drop body and mind like I’m falling asleep or waking up, this is my experience.

  30. Kman
    Kman September 24, 2012 at 2:15 pm | |

    From what I hear prisoners also live austere lives, and keep to a rigorous and precise schedule. Don’t think that counts as discipline. Then again, what do I know – I never became a monk and nobody rings bells at me. I’m never going to get enlightened at this rate.

  31. Khru
    Khru September 24, 2012 at 2:20 pm | |

    This High School blog welcomes a lively, thoughtful debate in the comment section. Keep in mind that the comments here are penned by young authors, so please keep criticism respectful, and help us to keep this a safe and supportive place for writers of all ages to contribute.

  32. A-Bob
    A-Bob September 24, 2012 at 8:02 pm | |

    Yeah.. I’ve wondered the same things. I appreciate what you wrote Pausha.

  33. claborne
    claborne September 24, 2012 at 9:23 pm | |

    Back in the day, celibacy would have been a deal breaker.

    I’ve read a few books, including Brads, and I think it’s safe to say that if someone put that much effort into it, they are serious about Zen. For most authors, of anything like this (not Brad) they loose a little perspective about who the reader is what the real goal in life is. Their 100% devotion to (pick one) should be carried out by everyone who reads it. When you dedicate your life to something I can understand the perspective.

    I guess that’s one of the reason that I like Suzuki’s “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”, he never wavers from “just sit”, and don’t freak out if you miss a day.

  34. Fred
    Fred September 25, 2012 at 6:56 am | |

    The life of an Olympic caliber athlete has this single-minded intent and purpose.
    Without purpose, a life is a rudderless boat pulled by the currents and winds.

    Coming back to this state or action of zazen is more than just a habit or decision
    by the personality. I call it the pull of the Ineffable. The universe is acting through the “I” to actualize itself.

  35. King Kong
    King Kong September 25, 2012 at 9:39 am | |

    NOT IN MY CASE !!!

  36. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 25, 2012 at 10:34 am | |

    action without (intentionally) moving a muscle- John Upledger wrote about what he described as “reciprocal innervation”, and although his explanation of the term is not the common definition, I find the phenomena he described crucial in sitting cross-legged. Stretch of a ligament can generate a nerve impulse that contracts the muscle appropriate to relieve the stretch. Since the ligaments/fascial bands and muscles are usually paired opposite each other, a posture that stretches ligaments equally on both sides of the body can set up reciprocal innervation of the muscles on either side of the body: when the ligaments on one side trigger the contraction of muscles to relieve stretch, that activity causes the ligaments on the other side of the body additional stretch which causes them to trigger the contraction of the muscles on that side, and back and forth. Upledger described watching his legs shift from side to side as he lay on the surface of the water in an isolation tank; this, he said, was reciprocal innervation.

    Sitting cross-legged is sitting with a stretch. If not from the get-go, then at some point the ability to relax the activity of the body and allow action generated by the stretch of ligaments or fascia becomes crucial to the sitting. Is this anything other than the place of occurrence of consciousness and the related ability to feel that is necessary to the in-breath or necessary to the out-breath, waking up or falling asleep?

  37. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 25, 2012 at 10:34 am | |

    thanks, Khru.

  38. sri_barence
    sri_barence September 25, 2012 at 4:58 pm | |

    When I was 23, I lived at Providence Zen Center for a few months. It was my first experience with formal practice. Just before I moved there, I had worked at Domino’s Pizza, mostly at night. So getting up at 04:30 every day was very hard for me. On top of that, I was the youngest person at the Zen Center. So of course they made me the kitchen master!
    Although I like practicing Zen, and I enjoyed cooking for the staff and for retreats, I continued to struggle with the daily practice routine, which at that time meant six mornings and three evenings a week of formal practice. We were also required to attend one 3-day retreat each month.
    It all came to ahead one morning when I decided to blow off practice. I had been feeling depressed and isolated; I just didn’t feel like I fit in. The abbot knocked on the door and yelled, “If you want to be a member of this community, you have to attend practice or leave.” So I packed up my things and left.
    Yesterday I decided to resume formal practice. I’m thinking of blaming it on Brad’s books…

  39. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi September 25, 2012 at 10:38 pm | |

    I don’t know about Zen, but in a lot of esoteric spiritual cultures, obedience is valued much more highly than discipline. And not just for the usual cult or ecclesiastical reasons. It has to do with overcoming the ego. The ego actually likes discipline, and it’s relatively easy to be a disciplined ego. But the ego really hates doing what others tell it to do. Especially if it doesn’t get any reward for it. So obedience to the teacher/guru is seen as a very high form of spiritual practice. The fact that it can be imitated by a childish approach doesn’t negate its value. Which is why most Gurus or teachers don’t praise their students for doing what they are told. It’s just expected.

  40. King Kong
    King Kong September 26, 2012 at 6:54 am | |

    YEAH, IN NYC THEY TREATED ME LIKE A TRAINED MONKEY !!!

  41. Fred
    Fred September 26, 2012 at 6:57 am | |

    Facing a wall with no thought will do it.

    Perhaps the millions of words written on the subject is another way the ego
    keeps itself diverted from doing the work ( as if a bundle of fictional figments
    could attain enlightenment ).

  42. ScottB
    ScottB September 27, 2012 at 1:42 pm | |

    I’ve been reading this blog for years (thanks for writing it Brad), however as an AA sponsor I have a different perspective on the AA analogy. Sponsors such as myself don’t proselytize, and the only experience of getting sober I can speak to with authority is my own. I have no idea if someone else can get sober in ways other than I did. All I can say is that I did not get sober until I worked the steps with the guidance of my sponsor, and followed the suggestions given me based on others’ experience, strength and hope.

  43. My_name_is_Daniel
    My_name_is_Daniel September 28, 2012 at 7:33 pm | |

    The person who pasted this asked me to delete it, so I did. – Brad

  44. BobbyByrd
    BobbyByrd November 2, 2012 at 4:19 pm | |

    This reminds me of Creative Writing schools which turn out MFA poets by the hundreds. Way too many times these poets ten years later, when they can’t get jobs as poets (strange anyway, getting a job as a poet), quite writing poetry. And worse, quit buying poetry books. Yeah, yeah, I’m a publisher and a poet (sans MFA). For me, after my years of sitting and staring at walls, zazen has become a food of sorts. I get hungry without it. And I get hungry when I’m not writing poems.

  45. Milwaukee
    Milwaukee November 24, 2012 at 12:47 pm | |

    And if monastic practice fails to instill in a person the will to do zazen as a daily part of their normal life, what good is it? If it just teaches monks to obey those in power, how does this benefit anyone in any way?

    What’s the difference between the will to do daily zazen
    and a guilt to do daily zazen?
    What’s the difference between the will to do daily exercise
    and a guilt to do daily exercise?

    Is daily zazen a commonly accepted behavior for ‘true’ zen spirituality?
    -
    I’m confused on what behaviors you were expecting the other people to perform once they left the retreat? And won’t those very same people find fault with your behavior, and sift through the writings to find passages that support their opinion to justify their condemnation of you?

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