So That’s What Zen Buddhism is About?


In Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the three wise men from the east who came to Judea to worship Jesus Christ at his birth mistakenly arrive at the wrong house. There they attempt to worship the baby Brian much to his mother Mandy’s consternation. At one point Mandy says, “So you’re astrologers are you? What sign is he?” They reply that Brian is a Capricorn. “What are they like?” Mandy asks.

“He is the Son of God,” says one of the wise men, “Our Messiah, King of the Jews!”

“So that’s Capricorn, then?” Mandy says, confused.

“No that’s just him,” one of the wise men replies.

“Oh! I was going to say otherwise there’d be a lot of them!” Mandy says.

When I lived in Japan I’d see other American teachers of English do idiosyncratic things that expressed their usually weird personalities. Japanese people would comment on these things and say, “That’s what Americans are like, I guess.” They did that with my strange behaviors as well.

When you don’t know much about a particular category of human beings, you might be inclined to take the idiosyncrasies of the few you encounter to be characteristic of all of them.

The New York Times doesn’t write much about Zen Buddhists. That’s why it was a shock to see their story about Eido Shimano Roshi and the sex scandals surrounding him. It’s what we Zen Buddhists fear the most, what keeps people hiding such scandals when they learn about them.

The New York Times almost never runs any stories about Zen Buddhists. So the readers of the New York Times don’t know anything much about Zen Buddhists. And then, all of a sudden they learn about Zen Buddhists for the very first time. And it’s about an old Zen Buddhist monk who lures naive young women into his private room and then forces himself upon them. “So that’s what Zen Buddhism is about?” they think. And forevermore for all those New York Times readers, perhaps a few million scattered across the country and beyond its borders, Zen Buddhism is about old men forcing themselves upon naive young girls in their private rooms.

People ask why these scandals are often hidden. This is why.

I’ve read a lot of articles and books about sex scandals in Zen Buddhism in the West and very few of them mention this point. Perhaps it seems so obvious as to not be worth stating. I recall one article about Taizen Maezumi Roshi’s sexual advances upon students in which one of Maezumi’s sangha was described as crying to the writer of the piece not to print it. She said that the dharma was so young and weak in America that she feared it could be killed if the story got out.

But the story got out and the dharma did not die. In fact, even Maezumi’s own reputation was not destroyed by the news. He continued to teach and his dharma heirs became popular and continue to run their centers even today.

Still, whenever some kind of scandal like this happens and it gets covered up, people on the outside are often puzzled as to why the people surrounding the teacher in question so often attempt to hide it. There are reasons other than this, of course. Students often go into denial when these things come to light, refusing to believe its true even when evidence becomes overwhelming. Embarrassment also plays a role. Students feel they’ve been duped and are ashamed to admit it.

But I think very often, students of teachers who get involved in such scandals feel like they have received great benefit from the things those teachers have taught them. They don’t want to risk damaging the dharma itself just because the person they’ve learned it from turns out to be kind of a jerk sometimes.

In his book Sex and the Spiritual Teacher, Scott Edelstein makes a very important point. People wonder how someone can be so grounded in some areas of life and yet do things that seem to contravene very basic moral principles, for example sleeping with other people’s wives as Shimano is accused of doing. Edelstein reminds us that one of the basic teachings of Buddhism is that human beings are not single solid entities who move through life essentially unchanged. Rather, Buddhism teaches that we human beings are just the manifestations of causes and conditions. We’re not consistent at all. So it shouldn’t be such a shock that a particular person can be a masterful exponent of ancient wisdom in the afternoon at a dharma talk and a womanizing cad three and a half hours later in his private chambers.

Still, one would expect better of someone who has dedicated his life to a philosophy that stresses morality as one of its key principles. If all that monastic training didn’t even teach him it’s wrong to screw somebody else’s wife, which is something most people without such monastic training know, then what good is it?

I’d like to take up one possible answer in my next installment.

***

Brad is at Tassajara until September 11th. He does not have Internet access there so his friend Jayce is posting these articles he wrote before he left. Nevertheless, the donation button and the store still work. Just in case you were wondering.

128 Responses

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  1. poepsa
    poepsa August 17, 2012 at 7:39 am | |

    Brad,

    I will be looking forward to what you propose as “one possible answer.” To my mind, the fact that this is as common as it is leads me to question the whole “authorization” process that zen (particularly Japanese Zen) fetishizes.

    Lineage as a concept simply meaning that every student and practitioner of the Dharma has learned from other students and practitioners, and that this line of succession goes all the way back to the Buddha in India is both unexceptional and true. It might even be accurate to call it a “truism.”

    However, lineage has come to mean much more than this. It has come to mean the “certification,” the “seal of sanctioned approval” of one Master’s enlightenment by another through a “mind-to-mind” transmission, certifying the legitimacy of the succeeding teacher to be a teacher and leader of the Sangha. It is this idea of lineage transmission that has been greatly emphasized historically in Zen. This practice can be seen as a means of ensuring that only properly certified and genuinely “enlightened” people are allowed to teach which would be seen as a protection for those of us who are unenlightened from being exploited, or it can be seen as a system for maintaining priestly power and creating mystique.

    The Buddha did not appoint a successor (although the Mahayana created the legend of the flower sermon to legitimize the idea of succession through Mahakashyapa). The Buddha did offer his opinion as to who was enlightened when asked about particular people. However, there is a passage where Ananda, seeming to pester the Buddha with this question, is told by the Buddha that Ananda could simply see for himself whether someone is enlightened or not, telling him that the test of one’s enlightenment and understanding is how well they follow the discipline. So it seems that the Buddha thought that the matter was obvious. If a person was enlightened, you could tell from what he or she did. You could know them by their deeds.

    Lineage was grasped onto as a way of showing that while the way a particular school practices or teaches may not look like the way the Buddha did; it is directly descended from and derived from him. Lineage also implies that as all the changes were made by certified enlightened Masters, they are not only authentic and true, they are perhaps even improvements on what the Buddha taught and how the orthodoxy practices! That is to say again, lineage becomes a means of legitimizing the non-obvious.

    This use and understanding of lineage is highly problematic. First of all, lineage is a form of “argument from authority” which Western logic regards as a fallacious argument (although, unfortunately as we have learned all too sadly in the USA throughout the “war on terrorism,” all too accepted by popular opinion). Just because someone holds a high position does not, of itself, ensure that he or she is right. The Buddha himself stressed this in his Discourse to the Kalamas when he told them not to believe and accept something just because of the position of the person who has told you it – including himself in this. Things are not true simply because the Buddha says it. They are true if they are true, and regarding things that matter, like birth and death and how to live a “noble” life, while we may need wiser folk to point it out to us, we still need to test what they say for ourselves. Sadly, humans like to shirk this responsibility and simply accept authority all too easily. Those societies based upon legitimization systems, such as the Roman Catholic Church, as seen most recently in their handling of the sexual abuse crisis, tend to work quite badly.

    The fact is that in the last fifty years there have indeed been some disturbingly significant examples of “legitimately authorized” Buddhist Masters acting in such ways that one must question the usefulness of lineage.

    It is clear that if the function and purpose of lineage is to offer a “guarantee” of someone’s enlightenment it has failed to do so – in this case at least. A guarantee that is unreliable is no guarantee at all. It seems to me that lineage, as an authentication system is not a system that was accepted by the Buddha and is not one he would have approved of. I believe that Buddhism is hindered, not served, by unnecessary mystification, and much of “transmission” and lineage reeks of mystification and obscuration. While I agree that people rarely become enlightened without spiritual teachers, it is ultimately the students who authenticate and authorize the teachers. It is our responsibility to, as the Dalai Lama points out, examine the teacher before committing to studying with him or her, and evaluate how he or she lives according to the discipline. An enlightened being is one who embodies the precepts, and if someone says they are above the precepts, they have not fully understood the Dharma.

  2. Fred
    Fred August 17, 2012 at 7:53 am | |

    I believe that Ted has an ongoing, longstanding difference with Zen forum
    priests and representatives on whether current leaders are enlightened or
    merely funeral directors.

    Absolutely excellently well written Poepsa.

  3. Fred
    Fred August 17, 2012 at 8:01 am | |

    “I believe that Buddhism is hindered, not served, by unnecessary mystification, and much of “transmission” and lineage reeks of mystification and obscuration”

    Mystification, obscuration and fornication.

    1. poepsa
      poepsa August 17, 2012 at 10:38 am | |

      Fuck, good one, Fred!

  4. jayce
    jayce August 17, 2012 at 8:07 am | |

    Here’s an interesting article along these lines from Stuart Lachs. The “lineage” is a myth, and Zen perpetuates myths as a form of self-preservation. Or some such idea. http://lachs.inter-link.com/docs/RichardBaker_Myth_of_the_Zen_Roshi.pdf

  5. jayce
    jayce August 17, 2012 at 8:08 am | |

    His other articles also look interesting, but I haven’t read them all: http://lachs.inter-link.com/

  6. Fred
    Fred August 17, 2012 at 9:49 am | |

    “Stuart Lachs:
    In some cases the teacher claimed the sexual experience would advance the
    student’s spiritual development.”

    Hahaha. Where have we heard that before?

    Zen is a mythical shangra-la built on a swamp

  7. poepsa
    poepsa August 17, 2012 at 10:43 am | |

    Fred and Jayce,

    Permit me, if I may, to share an essay/review where I about “Zen In Plain English” which was anything but, that I wrote at my blog here:

    http://zennaturalism.blogspot.com/2011/08/what-i-hate-about-zen.html

  8. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz August 17, 2012 at 10:56 am | |

    Poepsa, good post. I personally think Buddhism should not remain a “rigid system of ideology or practice”. Basically, Buddhism and Zen have to encourage an “evolution of both practice and provisional teachings” in accordance with change(s) in scientific knowledge, culture, or etc. What this requires is not treating anything as an absolute, and metaphysical claims of reality must be treated as spurious. Basically, since none of our models of reality will ever be wholly accurate, due to the multi-faceted & dynamic nature of reality, (e.g., check Structured of Scientific Revolutions by Kuhn) we should never cling to any concept as if it is unchanging, immutable, or whatever. This includes Dogen’s views on “Being-Time” or whatever:

    “Those who assert dependent phenomena
    As like moons in water
    As not real and not unreal
    Are not tricked by views.” – Nagarjuna

    In short, we should not fear “being wrong” or optimistic about “being right” when making claims based off observations in our practice and daily life. They should be treated as provisional and not latched to. It is ultimately not an either-or kind of thing. For example, quantum physics shows at that level of reality, our cause and effect do not follow. This does not threaten all of Buddhist teachings or approach to life, but it merely shows that it is a “not always so” kind of thing.

    I think the “not always so” applies to Dharma teachers. No one is a “realized enlightened being” with no imperfections, and the purpose of a Sangha, in modern times, should simply be a place offered for people to genuinely practice, hear advice about societal daily life, and so forth. There are certain teachings of Buddhism (like the 4 Noble Truths) that I do not think will change anytime soon, since they are fundamental to all schools of Buddhism and the practice, but one should not latch to even that.

    Since Buddhism is mainly focused on experience rather than systems of thought, I think scientific understanding should not be scorned or separated from how Buddhism evolves. This is because the knowledge attained from the empirical sciences are self-evident and have an immediate effect to daily life. Soto Zen, in other words, is a radical form of empiricism concerned with an individual’s present experience and daily activities, hence the importance of “present moment” and “action”, and it is fine it evolves (even to the point where the Japanese culture slowly drained out).

  9. Fred
    Fred August 17, 2012 at 11:37 am | |

    “Those who assert dependent phenomena
    As like moons in water
    As not real and not unreal
    Are not tricked by views.” – Nagarjuna

    Zen is based on non-conceptual knowing.

    The models of science are the trickery of view in the above quote.

  10. Fred
    Fred August 17, 2012 at 11:41 am | |

    Every sentence in your response above could be deconstructed if a person cared
    to deconstruct it. Not being Andrew, who cares.

  11. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz August 17, 2012 at 11:54 am | |

    “Zen is based on non-conceptual knowing.”

    This non-conceptual knowing is actualized when we sit single-mindedly in Zazen with complete awareness or act mindfully in present daily activities (i.e., without self and other distinctions while maintaining full-awareness without discrimination of like or dislikes). It is also actualized when one breaks from either-or thinking in those specific moments.

    I agree with you, but I don’t think Zen ends there, Fred. Everything has its time and place, and “either-or dualistic thinking” can be a part of the practice at large when it is directed towards specific tasks without wasted effort. Since Zen is a Bodhisattva path, one still helps others use the raft and does not leave the world of “illusions” per say, and one does not entirely relinquish conceptual knowing. While models never accurately depict the way things are, they are still useful and have great utility, such as the case of computational models in biology.

    “Since the possession of attributes is an illusion, Subhuti, and no possession of attributes is no illusions, by means of attributes that are no attributes the Tathagata can, indeed, be seen.” – Diamond Sutra (verse 5 – Red Pine transl.)

    What this means is conceptual knowledge, such as the case of computational models, is inseparable from non-conceptual knowing: in other words one must be aware of what the model predicts and also its inherent limitations. I interpret “as not real and not unreal” as saying we can never discuss the truth value of a model of reality but only its utility, and we must always maintain awareness of its inherent limitations, since reality is boundless and filled with constant changing variables in and of themselves.

    Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Free bilateral movement between both is what defines Zen, in a sense. What this means is one can still engage in intellectual thought in the immediate present, but it is not a substitute for sitting, however it is still a part of the practice at large (and vice versa). This is paradoxical because Zen does deal with the resolution of opposites which cannot be intellectualized but apparent in some logical paradoxes (i.e., not one, not two).

  12. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz August 17, 2012 at 11:59 am | |

    “Every sentence in your response above could be deconstructed if a person cared
    to deconstruct it.”

    Isn’t it weird how when on deconstructs something they also simultaneously construct something new, and vice versa? So then what does this entail? Isn’t the construction of mental representations much and the same way (e.g., when a construct of the world is form, our previous representation of it is deconstructed in some way)?

    In Zen one does not entirely relinquish any “side”. No-thinking or no-attachment is not the same non-thinking or non-attachment. This what the balanced approach mean. Do not fixate on either deconstruction or construction, but simply live and do everything single-mindedly. There will be times when deconstruction and construction are necessary, but in those moments both are simultaneously done and so forth. The Diamond Sutra makes this clear, hence why it sounds like a paradoxical mess.

  13. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 17, 2012 at 12:12 pm | |

    Great posts.

    Brad’s teacher moved toward science when he expoused a balance of SNS and PNS as the practice of zazen. I’ve been writing instructions for myself on zazen for years, and in particular on zazen in the lotus; I expect I will write another set soon, based around the practice I describe in “waking up and falling asleep” and the practice I arrived at in the initial essay on my site, “the mudra of zen”. I would applaud Issho Fujita for his efforts to simplify instruction in the practice of zazen and make it accessible to a more Western audience.

    Anybody notice what Yuanwu said in that quote I posted the other day?

    “Once you have been directed by a teacher or else discovered on your own the originally inherently complete real mind, then no matter what situations or circumstances you encounter, you know for yourself where it’s really at.” (Zen Letters pg 48)

    Now some here doubt this man’s understanding, but I find him helpful and positive, for the most part. He appears to accept the notion that it’s possible to discover the truth about the matter of life and death on one’s own, without a teacher. I believe that’s how the 6th patriarch did it, after all (on hearing a sermon).

    Nevertheless, as far as institutions and schools go, some kind of certification would seem necessary to protect the public from out and out fraud, and Chan and Zen are no exception to this. I think the difficulty is that the practice of zazen, and the induction of meditative states that the Gautamid taught, involves hynogogic phenomena; most people are looking for something entirely different from the mind of waking up and falling asleep when they are looking for enlightenment, and because the induction of hynogogic states cannot really be “done”, real instruction is like two arrows meet in the dark.

    In Judo, a lot of people master the art and obtain their black belts. Unlike a lot of other martial arts, this is done through competition, not simply by the demonstration of skills. The moral character of the individual is supposedly considered, but it’s clear that the behaviour expected of a Judo black belt is not the behaviour expected of a Zen priest, even though both are expected to have some degree of self-mastery. In some ways, I think there’s a presumption that if a person has the self-mastery to qualify to obtain the belt, they are probably a moral person. In many ways I think a similar situation exists in Zen, where if a person demonstrates self-mastery through intense practice of zazen, they are assumed to be enlightened sufficiently to receive the lineage and teach.

    Maybe that’s a good standard for institutions. Much like higher education in general, it doesn’t take into account a person’s qualification to teach, or much about their moral character beyond their ability to be upright amongst their peers and elders.

  14. Fred
    Fred August 17, 2012 at 12:16 pm | |

    “Since the possession of attributes is an illusion, Subhuti, and no possession of attributes is no illusions, by means of attributes that are no attributes the Tathagata can, indeed, be seen.”

    What this means is the suchness of that which is, can be experienced without
    words intervening.

    Science and models of reality intevene and lead back into dualistic thinking.

  15. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz August 17, 2012 at 12:26 pm | |

    “Science and models of reality intevene and lead back into dualistic thinking.”

    One can still learn from them without attaching or clinging to such models. Dualistic thinking has its role, for it helps us with goal-oriented behavior. Just don’t get attached to it or do it too much. When you do it, just do it with no wasted effort. Also, some activities require the use of models.

    I half-agree with your quote, “What this means is the suchness of that which is, can be experienced without words intervening,” in the context of the immediate present. However, sometimes non-distracting dualistic thoughts may arise, and one can immediately act upon them. What I am saying is not to toss intellectual thought completely aside. It is of great importance to understand what emptiness and all these words mean. When thinking, only think, when doing zazen, only do zazen, that sort of thing. To entirely let go of either will cause one to fixate and form strong attachments or rigid beliefs.

    “Since every perception is an illusion
    Instead of absolute
    You are in one with the Tathagata when,
    you can see illusion out of absolute.” – Another translation of the same verse

    In other words, non-thinking is the resolution of dualistic and non-dualistic “thinking”. It transcends both monism and dualism.

  16. SoF
    SoF August 17, 2012 at 12:43 pm | |

    I am not just “splitting hairs” – so to speak.

    Morality has to do with “self.”

    Ethical behavior has to do with others.

    Thus, gratifying a craving for pleasure IS a moral thing to do – it just may not be ethical. Sleeping with another man’s wife is, in many cultures, unethical. Anyone who has taken a graduate course in Cultural Anthropology can name a number of cultures where sleeping with another man’s wife IS an ethical thing to do.

    Hedonism IS moral behavior for the hedonist. Tantric sex comes to mind (pun intended).

    I discussed the differences between moral and ethical behavior a while back. One can behave in a moral yet unethical way. And one can behave in an ethical yet immoral way. Unfortunately, the occidental mind has perverted normal behavior with puritanical philosophy and ignorance while conveniently forgetting that the Puritans were unwelcome immigrants to the New World. They were eventually pushed out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony into Connecticut.

  17. poepsa
    poepsa August 17, 2012 at 12:53 pm | |

    I think we must be careful of all notions of “non-conceptual experience” or the positing of “transcendentalism” of all forms (other than the ‘transcendence of our ideas’) that posit some ontological basis (whether called “buddha-nature,” “original mind” or any other reification). The following is from a post called
    “Embodied Zen” that you can find here:
    http://zennaturalism.blogspot.com/2009/09/embodied-zen.html

    We must remember, whether we are experiencing the skinbag of the body or the dropping of body and mind, it is a bodymind having the experience! Note the quotation below from George Lakoff.

    I would agree that Buddhist meditative practices allow us to ‘go beyond’ our higher order concepts to a greater degree than perhaps most western scientists might agree possible (but perhaps with practice would understand), but I am convinced by the findings of cognitive science that categorization and primary order conceptualization, being a consequence of how we are embodied, cannot be ‘transcended’ or ‘left behind.’ Categorization is, for the most part, not conscious and rational; we categorize as we do because we have the brains and bodies we have and because we interact with the world in the way we do. In fact, not only do we not have full conscious control over how we categorize, we cannot have such control. Even when we think we are intentionally forming new categories, our neural unconscious categories enter into our choice of possible conscious categories. It is not merely that our bodies and brains determine that we will categorize; they also determine what kinds of categories we will have and what their structure will be.

    “Living systems must categorize. Since we are neural beings, our categories are formed through our embodiment, What that means is that the categories we form are part of our experience! They are the structures that differentiate aspects of our experience into discernible kinds. Categorization is thus not a purely intellectual matter, occurring after the fact of experience. Rather, the formation and use of categories is the stuff of experience. It is part of what our bodies and brains are constantly engaged in. We cannot, as some meditative traditions suggest, ‘get beyond’ our categories and have a purely uncategorized and unconceptualized experience. Neural beings cannot do that.” Philosophy In The Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, 1999, p. 19

    The very concept of the ‘unconditioned’ comes out of our embodied phenomenological experience. Our mistake, cognitive science seems to say, is we take it literally and draw some misguided conclusions. As they conclude, this has dramatic consequences for our understanding of religion and spirituality, which, in our culture – and throughout much of the East as well – has been defined in terms of disembodiment and transcendence of this world. What they (and I have long called for) is an alternative conception of embodied spirituality that begins to do justice to what people experience. There is another way – an embodied sense – to understand the experience of transcendence, of the ‘unconditioned’ or the ‘unborn.’ A mindful, embodied spirituality is a possibility, and I believe that the Buddhist practice (but I agree not tradition) can perhaps best provide a structure for creating it.

    1. CosmicBrainz
      CosmicBrainz August 17, 2012 at 1:10 pm | |

      poepsa, this was an incredible response and something I have been ruminating over too. It is in line with the neurobiological claims of Antonio Damasio, Thomas Metzinger, and other embodied cognitive scientists. I agree, I do not think Buddhism is about letting go “all categorizations” and fixating on “non-embodied experiences” because that is a physical impossibility. Such things as out-of-body experiences have been elicited in laboratory settings by stimulating certain regions of the brain (e.g., Olaf Blanke’s experiments), and I believe this, alongside other lines of evidence, is proof of embodied cognition and the limited nature of ontological claims. Our brains are hard-wired to create models of reality and not all distinctions are “worthless” (e.g., a cat must distinguish food from human, etc.), and Zen is not about “relinquishing” such models but rather about maintaining awareness of their limitedness and continuing to act in the immediate present. Dualistic thinking (i.e., subjectivity in conjunction with thinking) is also hypothesized to have emerged for goal-oriented behavior and maintaining homeostasis more effectively, as claimed by people like Antonio Damasio, but the tool is no more than that and does not reference a “thing” in the mind but rather a process (i.e., there is no “I” that enacts).

      However, one thing that I have not been able to conclude is the nature of “awareness” in practice and how it relates to mental phenomena. poepsa, I am wondering about your opinion about this claim here:

      http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=69&t=9510&start=0

      Basically, what I am wondering is, is awareness entirely localized in the brain? I am wondering what the Soto Zen take on the nature of qualia would be?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_problem_of_consciousness

      I have tired to figure out this question to no avail. I ultimately think there is no logical explanation to this specific one and I think it is an inherent limitation in the current models of embodied cognition. In other words, I am reluctant to accept either emergentism or reductionism because I do not think subject mental phenomena emerge from brain processes or that they are one and the same.

  18. Fred
    Fred August 17, 2012 at 1:16 pm | |

    “I am convinced by the findings of cognitive science that categorization and primary order conceptualization, being a consequence of how we are embodied, cannot be ‘transcended’ or ‘left behind.’”

    That’s like saying as a result of dualistic thinking, duality must be real.

  19. Fred
    Fred August 17, 2012 at 1:27 pm | |

    “We must remember, whether we are experiencing the skinbag of the body or the dropping of body and mind, it is a bodymind having the experience”

    No, the body-mind is not having the experience.

    The universe is seeing past and through the body-mind at itself.

    This is the whole point of whatever the zen practicioner is doing, and is evident
    in the statements of all the masters.

    It needs to been seen in one moment for the insight to coalesce.

    1. CosmicBrainz
      CosmicBrainz August 17, 2012 at 1:40 pm | |

      I think both Fred and poepsa are correct. We both are embodied and non-embodied.

      We are embodied in the sense our physical form is heavily tied to our discriminating mind. Instinctual impulses, cognition, and so forth are all due to the brain and its relationship to the body. The “monkey mind” (i.e., the mind that constantly wanders and is evident in Zazen) emerged for evolutionary reasons, and was originally a tool to help maintain homeostasis more effectively through subjective-goal oriented thinking. Antonio Damasio and Thomas Metzinger discuss this. Zen is not about letting go “all categorizations” and fixating on “non-embodied experiences” because that is a physical impossibility. Such things as out-of-body experiences have been elicited in laboratory settings by stimulating certain regions of the brain (e.g., Olaf Blanke’s experiments), and I believe this, alongside other lines of evidence, is proof of embodied cognition. Our brains are hard-wired to create models of reality and not all distinctions are “worthless” (e.g., a cat must distinguish food from human, etc.), and Zen is not about “relinquishing” such models but rather about maintaining awareness of their limitedness and continuing to act in the immediate present.

      The non-embodied part is “the universe is seeing past and through the body-mind at itself.” This is best described as mindfulness and non-abiding awareness. When we are mindful of “something” that something is mindful of us too. When we pose the question, “Is the moon there when we’re not looking,” we simultaneously pose the question “Am I there when the moon is not shining?” Thus, qualia is a fundamental part of the Cosmos and indistinguishable from it. Awareness does not emerge from neural phenomena nor is it reducible to the brain, but it is channeled through the brain. In other words, the brain is like an antennae or wire with the source being this non-abiding awareness. In other words, the Yogacharans were not entirely incorrect. Some “non-qualities” of the source are its aspatial, acausal, and atemporal characteristics, but at the same time it is infinite. This is the part of Zen that cannot be intellectualized.

      Now imagine being both embodied and working in line with the non-embodied non-abiding awareness, that is living in the immediate present with outmost awareness with this body and mind. This is how I interpret the whole of Zen philosophy.

  20. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 17, 2012 at 1:28 pm | |

    “Still, one would expect better of someone who has dedicated his life to a philosophy that stresses morality as one of its key principles. If all that monastic training didn’t even teach him it’s wrong to screw somebody else’s wife, which is something most people without such monastic training know, then what good is it?”

    The particulars of the moral precepts can certainly get hazy, but I think there’s an even bigger contradiction here that gets to the root of Buddhism’s credibility. Which is that the practice of Buddhism is essentially supposed to be about extinguishing our cravings, and not living by them anymore. And yet, here we see an alleged Buddhist Master being ruled by his cravings. The fact that the women were married is hardly what’s important. It’s the fact that this guy is putting himself out there as an accomplished practitioner of the art of not living by his cravings, who in secret is doing exactly that.

    Now that certainly should make people doubt the efficacy of Zen. If it can’t do the very simple task of teaching us how to overcome our cravings, what good is it? A cool lifestyle choice with nifty clothes and minimalist stylings? If sitting zazen doesn’t reduce our cravings, but just pushes them under the rug, only to have them lurch back out in secret lunges at young girls when no one is looking, what good is it really?

    People really ought to be more scandalized by this sort of thing than they are, but not because of the moral aspects. It’s the direct aspect, that these people don’t actually seem to be reducing or “blowing out” the fire of tanha. Just re-directing it. And hiding their failures. And no one even seems to call them out on this core failure. It’s just written off as a moral lapse of some kind, rather than a “tell” that the whole enterprise is lacking in accomplishing its most basic goals, in large part because it’s forgotten what its most basic goals actually are.

  21. bravoshark
    bravoshark August 17, 2012 at 1:28 pm | |

    This being a place for “chat” and writing out our own idea’s, it seems we’ve all forgot about one of the main precept’s:
    Reality is nothing that can be described in words by anyone, correct?
    All this arguing and over-thinking of any subject is only going to lead anyone to: “Too much thinking, just confusing the precious Thought of truth that is initially there, in each and everyone.

  22. SoF
    SoF August 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm | |

    I agree with others regarding the mystification of Buddhism. It’s bull sh*t. In fact, it’s Brahman Bull sh*t.

    The institution is NOT the content any more than the spoon is the soup.

    And the various and sundry ingredients in the soup depends upon who is in the kitchen!

    The FORM is emptiness.

    To get a grip on the foundation of Soto Zen Buddhism, assuming one so desires, suggested reading consists of just TWO books:

    1) Religion in Japanese History
    2) Did Dogen go to China?

    Then read a 75 Shobogenzo (unavailable in English – very archaic Japanese).

    95 Shobogenzo is the Tokugawa Shobogenzo (very corrupted by the Edo Daimyo).

    There are OTHER books, also.

    Dogen made extensive use of koan casess – a fact sometimes swept under the carpet in the Zendo. And, later in life, Dogen went to a pre-Zen and even pre-Mahayana form of Buddhism called the Madhyamika school (e.g. upstream Buddhism).

    So the question poses itself?

    Is it the comments from those LONG LONG AFTER Buddha or the teaching of Buddha himself that is of interest to you? To Dogen, late in life, it was the latter.

  23. Ted
    Ted August 17, 2012 at 1:32 pm | |

    The middle path rejects the mistake of thinking that things exist truly, but also rejects the mistake of thinking that because things do not exist truly, they do not exist at all.

  24. poepsa
    poepsa August 17, 2012 at 2:00 pm | |

    Cosmic,

    You write: “Awareness does not emerge from neural phenomena nor is it reducible to the brain, but it is channeled through the brain. In other words, the brain is like an antennae or wire with the source being this non-abiding awareness”

    and I guess I’d have to ask you to explicate a bit. From what you’ve written in your other comments, I don’t think you accept the idea of “pure consciousness” or “pure awareness” as the bramanical religions do (for instance, Patanjali’s “purusha”) BUT, such ‘creeping bramanicalism’ is rampant in zen and tibetan buddhism and many practitioner/scholars have been addressing this for some time. Awareness is always “awareness of…”

    As it says in “Trust in Mind,” “subject is subject because of the object; object is object because of the subject.” I take this to mean that while consciousness does arise neuronally, awareness is not atomistic; what you may mean as “dis-embodied” I’d take to be the social aspect of the construction of consciousness. This non-local understanding of the necessity for the social matrix for the construction of awareness avoids any super-natural transcendent realm.

    The metaphor of the brain as an antenna strikes me as moving too far to the idealist conceptions of pan-psychism which under current circumstances I reject. Of course, if I were to be presented with strong, verifiable evidence, I’d most certainly change my mind; I’ve done so many times regarding this subject over the years….

    1. poepsa
      poepsa August 17, 2012 at 5:09 pm | |

      Took a quick look at your linked essay and will get to it later (I’ve got a 23 month old toddler here keeping me busy now!).

      Enjoying the discussion…..

      fjb

  25. Fred
    Fred August 17, 2012 at 2:10 pm | |

    “Awareness is always “awareness of…”

    Awareness with no object is awareness with no object.

    1. poepsa
      poepsa August 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm | |

      yeah, and THAT — besides being an abstract concept with no basis in reality — IS a phenomenological experience explainable through brain functioning.

      That you and others may reify such an experience into an ontic reality doesn’t make it so…

      but hey, you are welcome to your beliefs, absolutely.

      1. CosmicBrainz
        CosmicBrainz August 17, 2012 at 2:30 pm | |

        But is the phenomenological experience the same thing as brain function? In qualia one and the same with neural pheneomenon and entirely localized in the brain? In other words do you accept eliminative materialism which is a danger of embodied cognitivism?

        I made another post about this in response to your last one, but it is taking awhile to be moderated, since I linked to two URLS. Messages with URLs must be moderated, but I linked to an article where I discuss the inherent limitations in neurobiology when discussing awareness with a lot of pertinent details from both sides.

  26. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer August 17, 2012 at 2:11 pm | |

    Broken Yogi,

    I read your post quickly, but I kept thinking about it, so I read it again, more carefully.

    I’ll preface my comments by saying that I frequently wonder what zen is good for, especially when I read about one of these scandals.

    As far as I can tell, the answer is another one of those pesky zen paradoxes ;

    My thoughts of what zen is, what it will do for me and how zen masters should behave are all just another bunch of desires that I am projecting onto the world-as-it-is.

    What zen “is” will always be different from what I think zen “should be”.

    For my own part, I don’t happen to like this at all, but it might just be how things are.

    Cheers.

  27. Fred
    Fred August 17, 2012 at 2:13 pm | |

    You are still intellectualizing about Zen, and that isn’t it.

    It doesn’t fit in a scientific model and is understood by direct experience.

    1. CosmicBrainz
      CosmicBrainz August 17, 2012 at 2:25 pm | |

      I agree. This quote “captures” what you’re saying:

      “In this they are ignorant of the nature of words, which are subject to birth and death, whereas meaning
      is not; words are dependent upon letters and meaning is not; meaning is apart from existence and non-existence, it has no
      substratum, it is un-born. ”
      (lankavatara sutra)

      I think where we disagree is with “Science and models of reality intevene and lead back into dualistic thinking.”

      It doesn’t have to be if one doesn’t attach to them. Models can be useful when one is aware of their limitations. In that way, they do not serve as a barrier to immediate experience. There are times when dualistic thinking is necessary, and that’s what I mean by “not always so”.

    2. poepsa
      poepsa August 17, 2012 at 2:35 pm | |

      Fred,

      This will be the last post regarding this as I’m not out to change your mind having no investment in your beliefs one way or the other.

      The anti-intellectualism of zen rhetoric is a useful strategy and one that the first two generations in the west really went overboard with!

      The “Direct Experience” too is mere rhetoric. There is no such thing as all experience is mediated through the body. That one can fantasize a disembodied experience has been shown to be a neural event: we are hard-wired for it!

      My question for all those who postulate some transcendent realm (whether it’s “heaven” or “unconditioned nirvana” or what have you) is why? Why do you feel the need for something “more” than just this. Why denigrate what is right before you? Why place ‘value’ or ‘meaning’ in the transcendent?

      It’s ironic, but so many who profess to be non-dual are metaphysical dualists and fail to see it!

  28. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz August 17, 2012 at 2:45 pm | |

    Perception is inseparable from the material-energetic universe. They are two sides of the same coin. The emergence of the world is inseparable from the structures that embody our cognitive systems. Qualia indicates we can neither fixate on neural phenomenon or the appearance of a world, and instead, there is a third “category” that doesn’t fit description and is all-inclusive. This is kind of like neutral monism. I discuss this in my article that I linked, but it is taking awhile to be moderated.

    People like Antonio Damasio and other neurobiologists do a good job addressing how the referent “I” is merely a conventional construct used for utility, and it does not have an independent existence apart from the world. However, they never really address the question of qualia, which I interpret as the modern day word for “non-abiding awareness”.

  29. boubi
    boubi August 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm | |

    = “a philosophy that stresses morality as one of its key principles.”

    Could you be more specific?
    Where is it taught?
    Which morale in fact?

    = ” If all that monastic training didn’t even teach him it’s wrong to screw somebody else’s wife,”
    Did they teach you not to?

    = ” which is something most people without such monastic training know, then what good is it?”
    I don’t, and i didn’t, only in order to keep things uncomplicated, am i an immoral person?

    We go back to a point i tried to understand, people tend to add things to buddhism which are not there.

  30. boubi
    boubi August 17, 2012 at 3:52 pm | |

    I don’t see how buddhism is a philosophy.

    In my limited understanding it’s a way to end suffering (illness, age, death), you do it, it works, end of story. By this i don’t mean i did it yet.

  31. Fred
    Fred August 17, 2012 at 4:56 pm | |

    “Why do you feel the need for something “more” than just this.”

    Who says that. Just this is what Dogen is speaking about, ie., the backwards step
    into the light turned inwards.

    This is nothing more than just this

  32. SoF
    SoF August 17, 2012 at 5:42 pm | |

    Functional pathophysiology of consciousness

    Consciousness can be divided into a number of things (including, but not limited to):

    Consciousness while awake (general perception).

    Consciousness while sleeping (guided or unguided dream state).

    Consciousness while entranced (guided or unguided dream state?).

    Consciousness while hypnotized (deferential state).

    Consciousness while intoxicated (distorted state).

    Consciousness while having seizures (petit mal and grand mal)

    EACH of the above, like fingerprints and perception, is an individualized experience. No two people share identical experiences.

    If someone ever says: “I know just what you mean.” or “I know just how you feel.” answer them: “Bullsh*t.”

    Same goes for: “I just experienced the SAME thing.”

    You are what you are
    and not what you think.

    To a blind horse a smile
    is as good as a wink.

  33. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 17, 2012 at 5:48 pm | |

    Alan,

    “My thoughts of what zen is, what it will do for me and how zen masters should behave are all just another bunch of desires that I am projecting onto the world-as-it-is.”

    It isn’t what “my thoughts” about what Zen should be or do that matter, it’s what the Buddha said Buddhism should be and do.

    It isn’t complicated. Read the Four Noble Truths. Buddhism is a practical method for extinguishing tanha, which is the source of dukkha. The cessation of craving. Working out the details is the Noble Eightfold Path. Zen is just one version of that, but it isn’t something other than that. If it doesn’t actually bring about the cessation of suffering, it’s just more conceptual nonsense and a continuation of craving. Period.

    If a zen teacher isn’t oriented towards the cessation of craving, he isn’t following or teaching Buddhism. If he’s unsuccessful in bringing his own cravings to an end, he’s not yet enlightened. Not a crime, of course. The serious question is, when these cravings are brought to light, how are they treated? This is a test not just of the teacher, but of the whole sangha. Are they treated as mere moral lapses, or as core betrayals of the most basic principles of Buddhist practice – the cessation of craving?

    I would suggest that many teachers and sanghas fail this test, precisely because they are not actually oriented towards the cessation of craving. They are oriented towards the attainment of “spiritual” cravings, material cravings, intellectual cravings, aesthetic cravings, you name it. They don’t address these cravings in the teacher for what they are, because they don’t want their own cravings addressed as they are. They want an end-around to the whole issue of the cessation of craving. They want to turn Zen, or any other form of Buddhism, into something else, something that can satisfy their cravings. They just don’t want their teacher fucking their wives in the process. They want his cravings to find an outlet in some other, more “spiritual” way. Like building a nicer sangha that satisfies our social cravings for a safe, comfortable society of friends. They are more upset that he’s upset that social contract, than that he’s still pursuing the fulfillment of his cravings. The problem is that his cravings conflict with theirs, not that they both have cravings. They don’t generally see that the misery of the whole situation is that both are living the life of craving, which by its very nature leads to conflict and dukkha. What they want, is a nice, reasonable compromise between everyone’s cravings, as if that will ever work out or last. It’s not Buddhism that they want, in other words, and it’s not Buddhism that they get, regardless of the trappings.

    These are my observations. It has nothing to do with how I think Zen teachers should behave. It has to do with the core principles of Buddhism, with tanha and dukkha and their cessation. If someone can bring and end to their cravings, and still fuck their students’ wives, more power to them. That doesn’t seem to be what’s happening here, however.

    If you think these are just my projections, please enlighten me.

    1. CosmicBrainz
      CosmicBrainz August 17, 2012 at 6:52 pm | |

      Transforming the three poisons: greed, hatred, and delusion. All the three cravings have origin in craving. Your post captured the heart of Buddhist practice.

      But remember: we are all born from desire. It is impossible to fully eliminate desire. Soto practice is thus continuous with no end.

  34. King Kong
    King Kong August 17, 2012 at 5:58 pm | |

    more is different, same is not

  35. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 17, 2012 at 6:07 pm | |

    poepsa,

    “The “Direct Experience” too is mere rhetoric. There is no such thing as all experience is mediated through the body. That one can fantasize a disembodied experience has been shown to be a neural event: we are hard-wired for it!”

    I’ve stayed out of this argument, but I would at least like to point out the obvious tautology of this claim. You are using the body itself as the evidence that the body is our only medium for experience. This alone should tell you that your logic has no foundation in reality.

    The phrase “direct experience” does not mean a dualistic dissociation from the body, and some kind of experience apart from the body. It means that the body itself is something that we directly experience. It is not abstract to us, and direct knowledge of the body doesn’t require scientific tests, it requires that we examine the body directly, as our own conscious experience.

    When you start talking about the neurology of the body, you are describing indirect knowledge of the body, abstract knowledge, built on concepts and indirect observation. Our direct experience of the body is not mediated by these concepts, it’s something everyone experiences all the time, regardless of how many books they have read. To examine our relationship to the body directly, we don’t need those books or concepts. We have what is before us right now, in our experience. To examine this experience directly, to inquire as to what its nature is, and who and what this “I” is that experiences the body directly, that’s the path that Zen takes. It doesn’t really have much to do with neurology, and the knowledge neurology gives us won’t help us in the direct approach.

    We have to feel our way into the body, to know the body as it is in our direct experience. This is not a dualistic approach, but the opposite, it is an examination of the direct, total relationship we have to the body and all bodily experiences. It requires the faculty of feeling-observation, not of abstract, conceptualized observations. Science won’t do the trick. Love will. The conceptual mind just gets in the way, turning what is a directly felt experience into an abstract, indirect concept.

    It isn’t a conceptual difference in the ways of thinking about these things, it’s an actual difference in approach.

    1. poepsa
      poepsa August 17, 2012 at 10:09 pm | |

      Broken Yogi,

      You mistake my point. There is no unmediated experience of ‘reality’ because all we can experience of the world is through the body —- including the feeling of the body.

      You write: “Our direct experience of the body is not mediated by these concepts, it’s something everyone experiences all the time, regardless of how many books they have read. To examine our relationship to the body directly, we don’t need those books or concepts. We have what is before us right now, in our experience. To examine this experience directly, to inquire as to what its nature is, and who and what this “I” is that experiences the body directly, that’s the path that Zen takes. It doesn’t really have much to do with neurology, and the knowledge neurology gives us won’t help us in the direct approach.”

      Did you read the quote from Lakoff? There are primary concepts and secondary concepts. We can practice to see through — and even free ourselves from the secondary conceptual level — but we cannot get passed the primary concepts that are themselves:

      “Categorization is thus not a purely intellectual matter, occurring after the fact of experience. Rather, the formation and use of categories is the stuff of experience. It is part of what our bodies and brains are constantly engaged in. We cannot, as some meditative traditions suggest, ‘get beyond’ our categories and have a purely uncategorized and unconceptualized experience. Neural beings cannot do that.”

      You also write: “It means that the body itself is something that we directly experience. It is not abstract to us, and direct knowledge of the body doesn’t require scientific tests, it requires that we examine the body directly, as our own conscious experience.”

      Again, the very experience we have OF the body is determined by the brain (which is the body). Are you aware of the rubber-hand experiment or those that create the sense of either extra limbs or missing limbs or completely alter the perception of the body’s parts in space? Or “out of body” experiments, becoming a living doll or the total body swap? These and other experiments show us that the ‘direct experience’ we have of the body is completely constructed — what the buddha called a citta-samskara.

      So I ask you, what kind of experience are you talking about that is NOT embodied?

  36. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer August 17, 2012 at 6:57 pm | |

    broken yogi,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

    I don’t do enough reading of Buddhist writings to engage with you on a scholarly level.

    I also type really slow, so writing this took me about twenty minutes.

    I have read the Four Nobel Truths and the Eightfold path, but in the school I am practicing these are not presented as inerrant truths, to be accepted without question, but are given as a guide to practice.

    I don’t know what enlightenment is, so I can’t enlighten you.

    Without going deeply into what you are saying (which I can’t for the reasons that I give above) I would paraphrase it as “The Buddha said this and these zen monks are doing that, so Zen Buddhism has a problem”.

    This is probably not correct, so feel free to correct it.

    To paraphrase Soylent Green, “Zen is made of people” and as much as I may want them to, people don’t behave perfectly.

    Finally I am sorry if I implied that your thoughts are projections. I was speaking about my own personal experience. I have many thoughts about how the world should be and they cause me all kinds of problems.

    Cheers.

  37. Khru
    Khru August 17, 2012 at 7:17 pm | |

    Yes. That’s exactly what Zen is about. Wonderful job.

  38. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 17, 2012 at 7:40 pm | |

    Alan,

    “I have read the Four Nobel Truths and the Eightfold path, but in the school I am practicing these are not presented as inerrant truths, to be accepted without question, but are given as a guide to practice.”

    Of course they are not inerrant truths. But they are definitive as to what Buddhism’s core teachings are. You still have to find out for yourself whether they are actually true, and whether the Noble Eightfold path actually works, especially in light of the many ways that can be taught or practiced, Zen being one of many, and of course there being more than one form of Zen.

    The point being that if one is going to practice Buddhism in whatever form, the Noble Truths are the bottom line, which means the cessation of tanha and dukkha (craving and the suffering it produces) is the focus. This doesn’t require any scholarship at all to see or grasp. It’s right there in the Noble Truths themselves.

    This doesn’t mean the Noble Truths are the only valid approach to spiritual life. They aren’t. They are just the core of Buddhism. One can certainly practice other approaches. They just wouldn’t necessarily be Buddhist approaches.

    But I would agree with you that if Buddhism is about the cessation of craving, and Zen Buddhists aren’t practicing that, then Zen Buddhism has a problem. As you say, Zen Buddhism is people, it’s not something apart from what Zen Buddhists actually do. So if the people who call themselves Zen Buddhists, aren’t actually practicing towards the cessation of craving, then Zen Buddhism is in trouble.

    I asked Brad once if he taught the cessation of craving, but never got a reply. Maybe he missed that one.

  39. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer August 17, 2012 at 7:57 pm | |

    Broken Yogi,

    I don’t remember Brad ever using the term “cessation of craving”, in person or in his writing, so possibly he did miss that one.*

    On a personal level, I agree totally that when I read about some zen teacher committing some grievous moral lapse, I wince and wonder what’s the use of practice if it leads to this.

    On another very personal level, I am absolutely practicing to save my life.

    No doubt about it. None.

    So if zen practice is somehow all fucked up…well, all I can say is, I sure hope not.

    Cheers.

    * I have heard him give public talks about a half dozen times and went down to sit at the Hill Street Center about ten times.

  40. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz August 17, 2012 at 8:03 pm | |

    Broken Yogi,

    I am interested in your response to this. I think it is incorrect to say Zen is not dualistic.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/japanese-zen/

    Zen is neither dualistic nor non-dualistic. It is finding the balance between “feeling connected within the universe” and “feeling separate within the universe” in the immediate present. Zen is not against intellectualization. It is against fixation on it. In the Diamond Sutra it makes it clear not to attach oneself to either non-A or A. In other words, both the affirmation and negation are simply treated as they are and not latched onto.

    “Free, bilateral movement between “not one” and “not two” characterizes Zen’s achievement of a personhood with a third perspective that cannot, however, be confined to either dualism or non-dualism (i.e., neither “not one” nor “not two”).”

    The resolution of opposites in Zen is not a simple non-dualism. Zen is not supporting “not-thinking” and abiding in a non-dual reality. Actually, it is fine to whole-heartedly think when it is called for it, and while arbitrary concepts are not treated as absolutes, they are still empty. If concepts are acknowledged as being provisional and empty (i.e., impermanent, insubstantial, and dependently arisen), then they can be good tools in understanding reality but they are not reality themselves. The map is not the territory, but why do away with either?

    Zen is simply a philosophy of action and practice. Zen is actually extremely easy to understand intellectually, but it is difficult to apply in daily life. It is simply full immersion in daily life, in a balanced state, without separation of self and other. The extra toppings we give to it (e.g., likes vs. dislikes, the constant narratives that serve as a barrier to living, the “I”, imposing our views onto others, non-existent dramas, etc.) are not forced away, but simply subside with more practice and mindfulness that is free from expectation (no beginning, no end). The point is, we are both embodied and non-embodied, it’s wrong to fixate on either-or.

    When a surgeon is mindful and operating on a patient, there is no separation between him and the patient (i.e., “not two”), and there is no clear delineation among the surgeon, universe, and patient in that moment. Due to the dynamic nature of the surgery, every moment counts and everything can change in a blink of an eye. Dogen said, “Each moment is all being, each moment is the entire world,” and the surgery encapsulates this. A small change to an organ causes an immediate net effect in the whole patient’s body, and in that moment cause and effect become one. However, the surgeon must still operate on the patient’s body and discriminate amongst organs and such (i.e., “not one”), so it is incorrect to say they are a whole “One” or “indivisible experience”. Rather, the interplay between organs and such is clear and one sees how one small change to a variable in the complex system causes bigger immediate changes. The surgeon must thus not have one distracting thought, such as the “I”, that can serve as a barrier between him and the patient (i.e., “not one, not two”). He must also channel a lot of awareness in order to work naturally and swiftly. And of course, he must have practiced a lot.

    Zen is more of a psychological state and not a metaphysically constructed system. It is simple, but very hard to do.

  41. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 17, 2012 at 11:34 pm | |

    CosmicBrainz, great to hear what you have to say. Godel’s incompleteness theorem basically says that a set of axioms from which the entire structure of mathematics can be derived will also give rise to contradictions, and the set of axioms which does not give rise to contradictions cannot describe all that is known in mathematics. To me this says that I can discover useful basic principles and explore relationships that arise based on those principles, and describe parts of my experience, but never all of my experience. So I value my understanding, and I accept that it is limited in nature. Amazingly, the Gautamid spoke of questions that “went beyond”, and refused to address them. Savvy.

    Zen is more of a psychological state. Specifically, if you look at where the vestibular system has located your awareness as you are falling asleep, you will fall asleep. What’s news about that, not surprising unless you were having trouble falling asleep when you looked. I’m using the word look, but obviously, if your awareness is located somewhere, there’s only from there. Here’s a description of a friend of mine who tried it:

    ‘I woke up at 4:30 AM, after a quick drink of water. returned to bed and tried your practice.

    I hope I did it correctly, I was somewhat surprized that my mind moved around quite a bit. not fast, but in slow motion the awareness would shift, from left cheek to right side of torso etc. The end result was a light sleep state, but I was glued to the bed and then woke up exactly at 6AM, feeling refreshed like I had a complete 8 hours of sleep.’

    If you look at where your awareness is located when you are falling awake, you may find a different experience; humbleone wrote:

    ‘I have taken it a bit further, experimenting it during the day. same practice, find the location of the consiousness.

    It pulls me into the present. the feeling last 2-3 seconds, but it is something that I have never experienced before. being really present, here and now. the mental projection into the future stops, the past stops. I am just here and now. no future plans or worries. no goals, no dreams that are waiting to be fullfilled. time stops. no where to go. I am just here and now.’

  42. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 17, 2012 at 11:40 pm | |

    I was walking the dog tonight, and I dropped into my waist three or four times, just here and now. Same thing sits the lotus, a little more consistently out of necessity. “The mind of zazen”, and Issho Fujita describes it. Can’t be “done”, that’s the thing.

  43. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 18, 2012 at 12:19 am | |

    Cosmic,

    I don’t have time to read the whole thing, but right off the bat I hope the guy is wrong that “Zen aims at a perfection of personhood.” This seems completely against the grain of Buddhism.

    I have no great conceptual understanding of Zen dharma. My approach is very simple. The first Noble Truth to me is where the shoes hit the pavement. Life is unsatisfying, dukkha. This, to me, is not a philosophical statement. It’s something you have to actually feel. That is not hard, because life really is unsatisfying, and even if you don’t feel unsatisfied right now, just wait.

    The feeling of dukkha is where it all starts. And why do we feel dukkha? The second Noble Truth says, because we crave. This also is not a philosophical statement. Again, it is something one can feel directly. Feel your cravings. Not hard either, since we are always craving something.

    To me, Zen begins as we notice the connection between dukkha and tanha, between our suffering and our craving. Surprisingly, very few people ever make this connection. They tend to see it ass-backwards. They do know that they are suffering from disatisfaction, but they see craving as the way to relieve it, and achieve satisfaction. Zen means inverting this illusion, and seeing it the other way around, seeing that craving produces suffering, and not the other way around.

    This goes against everything we have been taught, which is why so many people disregard this, and try to practice Buddhism in the straightforward manner, of craving a satisfying state of peace, even some kind of “perfection of personhood,” and assuming that Buddhist practice will help them achieve it. When it doesn’t, they think it’s no good, a false approach that doesn’t work. Or, they just think they have to apply themselves better.

    But genuine Buddhism requires that we move onto the Third Noble Truth, the cessation of craving. This is where the real truths of Buddhism become clear. If we’ve really understood the first two Noble Truths, we know that our suffering is the result of our cravings, and not the other way around. We don’t just think this intellectually, we actually feel it. We feel that fire of tanha that tortures us day to day, even moment to moment. We feel this as the underlying reality of all our sufferings. And so, we recognize that to be free of suffering, we have to be free of craving.

    That’s when we’re ready for the Noble Eightfold Path. We understand that path not as a way to fulfill our cravings and achieve satisfaction, but as a way to release, let go, and bring about the cessation of tanha, that fire of cravings that torture us. So we aren’t approaching spiritual practice in the usual way, as a way to gain satisfaction of our cravings, but as means to dissolve craving itself. We use the precepts, right conduct, right speech, dhyana, all of that, as a way to expose and undermine and bring about the cessation of craving, not its fulfillment.

    That, to me, is what genuine Zen is about. Sitting is a way of saying “I’m not going to do anything to achieve satisfaction, I’m just going to sit here.” It isn’t a way of immunizing oneself from one’s suffering. It means sitting in the feeling of suffering, the feeling of dukkha, the feeling of craving, all that torture and torment, and doing nothing about it. Just feeling it all. Feeling the body and its cravings, the mind and its cravings, the emotions and all of that craving, the breath and its cravings, and doing nothing in response. Just letting it smoulder. Letting it burn out. Enduring the tapas of not acting or thinking or emoting to fulfill one’s cravings, but just feeling and observing that whole package of suffering. And noticing that this is the only thing that is not suffering. That is awakened mind.

    That is the intelligence that begins to come alive through merely sitting. And it begins to inform our entire life, and changes our approach to everything. Instead of living in a manner that seeks to fulfill our cravings, we don’t do any of that. We just live in a free manner, even while inside we may be burning up with cravings and feelings of suffering. We just don’t pursue those ends. Even while acting, we are not doing anything out of craving, and the fire of tanha just burns itself out inside us. This is what living Zen means.

    So the point about a Zen teacher playing out sex games isn’t really about the moral play itself, it’s the fact that this teacher doesn’t understand that the approach to his sexual cravings is to simply sit, and allow them to burn up, not to go out and fulfill them. There’s certainly a natural and easeful way to have a sex life, that isn’t based in craving, and if he practices, he will learn what that means. But if he doesn’t know how to do that, he’s not ready to be a teacher. That’s why the precepts matter. They help demonstrate who has actually understood that trying to fulfill one’s cravings only perpetuates them. One can of course fake that too, by just using the precepts as a form of craving for recognition, or to create a false sense of accomplishment, or just the pursuit of the craving for purity and moral righteousness. But there are ways of telling such people from those who really do understand their purpose. No one is actually being fooled in any case, since as long as the fire of tanha is our guiding principle, we will not find peace or happiness.

  44. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel August 18, 2012 at 8:54 am | |

    Broken Yogi wrote:

    “If a zen teacher isn’t oriented towards the cessation of craving, he isn’t following or teaching Buddhism. If he’s unsuccessful in bringing his own cravings to an end, he’s not yet enlightened. (…)

    “I would suggest that many teachers and sanghas fail this test, (…). They are oriented towards the attainment of “spiritual” cravings, material cravings, intellectual cravings, aesthetic cravings, you name it. (…) What [the students] want, is a nice, reasonable compromise between everyone’s cravings, as if that will ever work out or last. It’s not Buddhism that they want, in other words, and it’s not Buddhism that they get, regardless of the trappings. ”

    I think this is much more important than addressing the so called transmission, subject already addressed by Brad.

    As for him teaching, or not, the cessation of craving, one must remember that, just as me, he is a Dharma heir of Nishijima and that the latter reformulates the 4 Noble as being the discrepancy between Reality and our wishes, and that, to put an end to our insatisfaction, we need to start considering Reality and not our fantasies.

  45. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 18, 2012 at 10:18 am | |

    “As for him teaching, or not, the cessation of craving, one must remember that, just as me, he is a Dharma heir of Nishijima and that the latter reformulates the 4 Noble as being the discrepancy between Reality and our wishes, and that, to put an end to our insatisfaction, we need to start considering Reality and not our fantasies.”

    Yes, that seems like a good start, as long as the reality being considered takes into account the inescapable truths of dukkha and tanha. It still has to come down to the cessation of craving, or what’s the point? Consider reality all you like, but if you continue to live based on craving, what exactly has changed?

  46. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 18, 2012 at 5:26 pm | |

    Broken Yog, can I offer some alternative readings?

    “Life is unsatisfying, dukkha”- the philologist (or language scholar) Norman that Proulx Michel quoted the other day pointed out that the translation of the first truth should be “the truth, ‘this is suffering’”. In many places, suffering is given as birth, old age, death, etc. which is followed by “in short, the five groups of grasping”.

    “The second Noble Truth says, because we crave”- the usual declension in the second Noble Truth is that ignorance gives rise to volitional activity which gives rise to consciousness, name-and-form, the senses, contact, feeling, craving, clinging, becoming, birth-old-age-etc. or in short the five groups of grasping. The craving you are talking of I believe is spoken of in connection with that which ceases with the final arupa jhana, which is broken down as three craving (wikipedia): craving or desire to hold onto pleasurable experiences, to be separated from painful or unpleasant experiences, and for neutral experiences or feelings not to decline.

    Tanha, does the fire burn out, or is it blown out? Clearly not through volition, either way!

    Eight-fold path, remember that the elements of the eight-fold path are what really is for one who sees sense organ, sense object, consciousness, impact, and feeling as it really is with regard to each of the senses- with the exception of right speech, right action, and right livelihood which for such a one are already well purified. This in “The great six-fold (sense-) sphere” lecture in MN III.

    Ok, picky-picky, but the cessation of craving occurs in the 5th arupa jhana. The jhanas are begun by “making self-surrender the object of thought” and laying hold of single-pointedness of mind- trying to get rid of anything is the same as trying to get anything, isn’t it?

  47. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 18, 2012 at 5:31 pm | |

    Thanks, real Mysterion, for the insight into moral and ethical, and the reminder that there are many different customs in different cultures around marriage and sexuality. I think the thing that’s distressing is when people are harmed, and some of the spouses if not some of the individuals involved in the intimacy apparently have been.

  48. Jinzang
    Jinzang August 18, 2012 at 5:35 pm | |

    “Godel’s incompleteness theorem basically says that a set of axioms from which the entire structure of mathematics can be derived will also give rise to contradictions, and the set of axioms which does not give rise to contradictions cannot describe all that is known in mathematics.”

    Not quite. It says in any sufficiently rich system, there propositions which cannot be proven or disproven. And demonstrates with an example, so it is a constructive proof. Hence, all such systems are incomplete.

  49. Jinzang
    Jinzang August 18, 2012 at 5:43 pm | |

    Buddhist epistemology distinguishes between what one knows by perception and inference. And among things known by perception it distinguishes between direct and subsequent perceptions. Subsequent perceptions are influenced by conceptualization. Direct perception does not mean not influenced by one’s bodily makeup, Buddhist epistemology accepts that they are.

    The claim is that the experience of enlightenment is the direct perception of the absence of a substantial self. Sort of pointless to argue about it in the absence of evidence or personal experience.

  50. Jinzang
    Jinzang August 18, 2012 at 5:48 pm | |

    The danger is that one has some sort of experience that one confuses with enlightenment and then one arrogantly assumes everything one does is the expression of enlightenment.

    Zen teachers fall in love with their students and vice versa. In psychotherapy this is called transference and therapists know they need to deal with it. But spiritual teachers, as a rule, get no such training.

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