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.

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128 Responses

  1. boubi
    boubi August 18, 2012 at 6:19 pm |

    “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.”

    A couple of questions, amicalement.

    What is this reality? Kind of “what happens”, like in today it rains, for instance? Or in “i’d like to be a baller, a bit taller”, but i’m not tall and bad at basketball?

    End of suffering means to stop telling ourselves stories? Kind of drop the bullshit?

    But we get toothache (it’s not about insatisfaction) , we need more and more to go to the doctor, body aches and gets weaker (it’s reality not a fantasy, it hurts!), death …

    In my view everybody sees dharma through his/her cultural/personal lenses.

  2. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 18, 2012 at 6:41 pm |


    I’m no scholar of Buddhism, but I think the Noble Truths make it clear that both dukkha and its cause, tanha, are universal categories not to be confused with their specific expressions. At the same time, they are also singular, in that regardless of their expression, they have the same internal structure. Whether our suffering is of old age or sickness, or of not getting the job we wanted, dukkha is always the same. Likewise, our craving for good fortune of whatever kind, or for an absence of pain, is also of the same structure. When we feel miserable or disatisfied, it hardly matters what specific cause it had. That it is all founded in unsatisfied cravings of whatever variety, is the unifying principle. Likewise, the feeling of dissatisfaction is the same regardless of what we are dissatisfied about.

    As for the cessation of craving in toto, no I do not believe that the fifth arupa jhana completes that. Again, not a scholar, but I found this definition here:

    Fifth Jhana

    The Fifth Jhana is called “The Sphere of Infinite Space.” Please remember that these are just names for experiences the likes of which we are not familiar with. It just feels like infinite space — it doesn’t necessarily mean we are able to experience all the space in the universe. According to the sutras, you enter the Fifth Jhana by “not giving attention to diversity”. This isn’t much detail, but then there is very little “how to” detail about any of the Jhanas. Many people enter the Fifth Jhana by shifting their attention from the primary factor of the previous Jhana to the boundaries of their being. They then start to mentally push these boundaries outward. If you can continue to focus on imagining your boundaries growing ever larger so that you fill the room, the building, the neighborhood, the city, etc., you will eventually experience a sudden shift and find your self in a huge expanse of empty space. The first time entry into “The Base of Infinite Space” is often quite dramatic. You seem to be observing an incredibly large, empty expanse of space. It can feel like walking up to the edge of the Grand Canyon and looking over, but there is no other side and no bottom.

    Correct me if this source is wrong, but “not giving attention to diversity” doesn’t sound like the cessation of craving, but only the cessation of a particular variety of craving. It’s my amateur understanding of the jhanas that, in general, they deal with the cessation of craving in various stages and categories, the finality of it all being the total blowing out of tanha, meaning nirvana. It would not be correct, therefore, to categorize any of them as being “the cessation of craving”, but only various steps in that direction, the fruit of which in toto is nirvana, which is not realized until they have all been passed through, and all forms of craving have come to an end.

  3. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel August 19, 2012 at 2:17 am |


    When I was younger, I positively HATED going to the dentist, which, considering the diet for children in Northern America, from the 50ies, meant often. (Too much sugar). And what I hated most was the injection in the gums. As a late teenager, I realised that my tensing against what was anyway unavoidable just made it worse. So, I realised that, once I had accepted the pain of the injection, that pain became much more tolerable. And so for many other instances of pain in my life. I was a favourite prey to mosquitoes. Once I decided that it could not be avoided and blandly accepted my fate, they strangely were much lesser in number to assail me.
    So, when Nishijima taught me his view, they did correspond to my experience. And I also read in the Pali Canon that the Buddha did teach just the same.

  4. Ted
    Ted August 19, 2012 at 4:13 am |

    Blown out means that as a result of effort over time, a practitioner who has directly perceived the lack of a self eliminates all of the fuel that causes the fire of dukha to burn, and then the flame goes out of its own accord. The status of a once-returner exists because although the tendency to stoke the fire has been completely eliminated, there is still fuel to burn.

    It’s a bit precious to argue about what happens at this or that dhyana, though, until one has actually experienced it. It’s like standing outside the entrance to a cave in the rain, discussing the question of how deep one must get into the cave before one can dry off.

    It should not be the case that we have to kind of grit our teeth and force ourselves to stop craving; rather, it should be the case that the more wisdom we learn, the more aspect of our craving appear to us to be obviously deluded. This understanding then leads us to let go of our craving. It’s not an entirely pleasant experience—my first experience of it was a feeling of futility in the ordinary activities of life.

    The practice that Brad was talking about, “nothing special,” is a helpful antidote to this feeling of futility.

  5. King Kong
    King Kong August 19, 2012 at 8:28 am |
  6. Pausha
    Pausha August 19, 2012 at 8:41 am |

    What is it that “harms the true dharma” really? The lack of sexual responsibility on the part of the teachers, or the further lack of responsibility on the part of … everyone, as demonstrated by lying and hiding?

    Genpo is a beautiful example here, I think. His sexual indiscretions were one thing, but what really harmed the value of his teachings, his credibility as a teacher, was that he did not own it, he did not claim it, he took no responsibility for it. He lied and pretended for years.

    He could have say: yes, I did this. He could have say: this is how I felt, this is what came up for me and this is how I reacted, and this is how I now am working with it. This approach might have benefited everyone hugely, as we all have places where we react blindly, and his example of becoming present in his blind spot could lead others in dealing with theirs. Instead he chose to keep the blind spot blind, until he was caught. And even then there continued to be a fair amount of blindness and not that much presence and responsibility.

    How does lying and pretending benefit any truth, be it true dharma or true anything else?

  7. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 19, 2012 at 9:40 am |

    Jinzang, have you seen “Is Arithmetic Consistent?” Author there is definitely talking about consistency. I have not seen a full presentation of the proof, although I have Klein’s Metamathematics and I hope someday to attempt it. Did you know that it was the first piece of mathematics formally proven with a computer? I didn’t, until somebody handed me a copy of “Notices” with an article about it.

    “The claim is that the experience of enlightenment is the direct perception of the absence of a substantial self.” Can you quote a source?- not that I am disagreeing with the substance of the statement, only that in my reading of the first four Nikayas I don’t think the Gautamid ever stated what enlightenment consisted of, apart from a destruction of craving for again-becoming. Neither does he speak of direct perception and subsequent perception to my knowledge, so I’m guessing you are referring to Buddhaghosa’s commentary or later.

    We’ve all got our guiding lights, but it’s the place the Zen teacher’s action comes from that marks the living absence of a substantial self, that would be what has drawn me to Zen from the beginning. I’m currently convinced this place is where my awareness is right at the moment, although I might not be the best example to my peers.

  8. Fred
    Fred August 19, 2012 at 10:18 am |

    “The claim is that the experience of enlightenment is the direct perception of the absence of a substantial self”

    That may be, but there is nothing to perceive this absence of a substantial self.

    Other than the universe perceiving itself of which the fiction is but a part.

    So instead of saying I am enlightened, the fiction might say something happened
    awhile back that seemed wondrous, but I am not really sure what it was.

    This doesn’t really let you off the hook when you say that current Zen Masters are
    merely funeral directors, and not enlightened teachers.

    Suzuki may have just been playing with words when he said that he had not
    experienced enlightenment, depending on what was meant by ” he “.

  9. Fred
    Fred August 19, 2012 at 10:24 am |

    It might be better to say that Enlightenment has seen the insubstantiability of

  10. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 19, 2012 at 11:07 am |

    “That may be, but there is nothing to perceive this absence of a substantial self.

    Other than the universe perceiving itself of which the fiction is but a part.”

    The absence of self doesn’t mean an absence of awareness. It merely means that there is no discreet, separate entity that is aware. Likewise, there is no discreet “universe” perceiving itself. Even so, non-separate awareness is fully aware of itself and its non-separate nature. A glimpse of satori is enough to make this clear.

    Buddha’s silence about the nature of enlightenment, other than defining it negatively by the cessation of craving, does not mean an absence of awareness or even perception, only that these are no longer conditioned by ignorance.

    It’s important to recognize that the Second Noble Truth defines the cause of dukkha as “craving conditioned by ignorance”. And that there’s such a thing as craving unconditioned by ignorance, or channa, to be differentiated from tanha. Which means, free, or egoless activity. So in enlightenment, there is only channa, the egoless impulse, which could also simply be called love. And there is also perception, just not perception conditioned by ignorance (the illusion of ego). There is no ego to perceive, but there is perception, and awareness, all unconditioned by the illusion of ego. And yet, without tanha, there is no dukkha, only an indescribable, egoless bliss.

    As one of my favorite sayings of the Buddha goes:

    No earthly pleasure
    No heavenly bliss
    Equals one infinitesimal fraction
    Of the bliss of the cessation of craving

    So there is certainly the assertion that in enlightenment, there is indeed bliss, and a bliss incomparably greater than even the greatest heavenly bliss of the jhanas. It isn’t literally “nothing”.

  11. boubi
    boubi August 19, 2012 at 11:46 am |


    It sounds a bit like surrender to your life, to your destiny, stop rowing against the current … which makes it’s own sense, in a way.

    OK, it’s lessening, not ceasing of pain from illness, age, death.

    A few times in my life i had to get acquainted, to recognize “parts” of “me” i didn’t want to get in touch with. It wasn’t easy but a great feeling of relief came with it, as if shedding some layer of caked mud, heavy and stiff, feeling somehow happy in a quiet way. I believe that from one i started to have foretellings that at least a couple of times saved my life, as if i stopped stopping feelings reaching inside.

    Can you point to those sutras?

  12. SoF
    SoF August 19, 2012 at 12:15 pm |

    The purpose of sitting IS sitting (and moving toward not-thinking).

    The purpose of koan practice is reflective thinking. THINKING.

    So there is a time for sitting and there is a time for thinking.

    In what I refer to as ‘lazy occidental not-Zen’ there is a wanna be sitting group that is either unable or unwilling to participate in koan practice and reflective thinking. Were we better at reflective thinking in the West, there would be no viable republican party. But there IS an evil called republicanism of “me” politics. In a world of 7 billion people, few question HOW we arrived in this unsustainable situation. In a world of failed BWR ‘nuclear’ power which has a large part of Russia and 1/3 of Honshu contaminated, few question HOW we arrived in this nightmare situation. In a world of intense global warming, few question HOW we arrived on the greenhouse side of the tipping point.

    The answer is obvious tho thinkers: IGNORANCE.

    And ‘just sitting’ in the absence of thinking is a means of sustaining ignorance.

    One could have a ‘reading group’ and stubble through commentaries on koan cases. One could have either a fraudulent or an ill-informed guru and become misinformed about koan commentaries.

    The problems are many and the solutions few.

    It starts with a party of one.

  13. anon 108
    anon 108 August 19, 2012 at 12:44 pm |

    SoF –

    Do you really believe that a significant number of ‘just sitters’ don’t engage in reflecting thinking? That there is a group of people who have reached the conclusion that reflective thinking is useless and have modified their brains successfully to adopt such a policy? And do you really believe that the only way out of this self-induced state of mindless ignorance is to undertake a course of koan study?

  14. Darrin
    Darrin August 19, 2012 at 1:21 pm |

    “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.”

    I agree with the first sentence, having experienced a spiritual leader who truly failed to stand up to the moral standards he taught. It is devastating. It took quite a while to realize that, just because he has failed to live what the taught, the essence of the teaching is not automatically invalidated.

    The second sentence is a problem for me. Is it really possible for someone to “damage the Dharma”? To me, the Dharma is a teaching that transcends any one persons life. If someone who knows nothing about Buddhism and the Dharma hears about a scandal and makes a judgement about Buddhism based on what they heard, is the Dharma damaged? I don’t think so. I would say the scandal may have damaged that persons opinion but not the Dharma itself. I’m probably splitting hairs here but it takes real skill to split a hair, not to mention a very sharp knife. 🙂

  15. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz August 19, 2012 at 1:25 pm |

    Maybe we need to find a balance between “bureaucracy” and “transmitted realized teacher” in the Sangha. For example, we no longer view our teachers as “enlightened beings” who are beyond “all suffering”, and we avoid the opposite extreme of bureaucratizing the Sangha with a lot of arbitrary regulations and so forth. The best thing, I think, is to simply offer Sutra study or koan study (e.g., Blue Cliff Records) and Dharma talks in relationship to living in our society or daily activities after meditation sessions. It should not be more than that.

    1. Meditation
    2. Sutra or Koan Study or Chant
    3. Dharma Talk in relationship to living in society
    4. Clean up sangha, wash dishes, vacuum floors, etc.
    5. End, people go back to doing whatever they want
    *repeat everyday

    In other words, we create an organization-less organization.

    I also would like it if Soto Zen took out the cultural stuff. A lot of people come to the Sangha because they are obsessive about Japanese culture, samurai, and weird stuff like that. By eradicating the “cultural flavorings” in Soto Zen, and keeping the essentials, such things will become less prevalent.

    People need to disillusion themselves about Zen. It’s nothing transcendent. It is not reaching out for some kind of absolute truth. There are no absolute truths in any of the Buddhism’s. None, whatsoever. If you believe or claim to know any of your understanding to be absolute, or act as if it is absolute, then you have fallen into the worse kind of Dukkha imaginable. Trust me about this.

  16. Fred
    Fred August 19, 2012 at 4:01 pm |

    John Loori:
    “In absolute samadhi, in complete falling away of body and mind, there is no reflection and no recollection. In a sense, there is no “experience” because there is a complete merging of subject and object, or a perfect recognition of already existing non-separation. There is no way of describing what is or was going on.”

  17. King Kong
    King Kong August 19, 2012 at 4:19 pm |

    Been there, done that… uh, I guess?

  18. SoF
    SoF August 19, 2012 at 8:02 pm |

    Anon 108:

    Consideration of koan cases is a start.

    A given koan is no more of a solution than a foundation is the fifth floor of a pagoda.

    One thing is built upon another.

    THINKING is built upon fluid thought and NOT a belief.

    And yes, unfortunately I know several sitters who sit Zazen in the same way some people wear a tatoo – it’s no more than a mark of distinction. The same can be said of blue hair. If that’s what rings your bell (pun) then go for it.

    If you spend your Zazen time in reflective thinking then you may not be exploiting the Zazen opportunity. It’s like going to a movie and tweeting for an hour and a half. What’s the point?

  19. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 19, 2012 at 10:27 pm |

    broken yogi, the “rupa” and “arupa” are the material and non-material meditative states. The Pali suttas recount four material meditative states, and five non-material states. The fourth material meditative state is the cessation of the habitual activity of inhalation and exhalation. The first non-material state is the infinity of space, which you mentioned, followed by the infinity of consciousness, the state of no-thing, the state of neither the habitual activity of perception and sensation nor yet the cessation of the habitual activity of perception and sensation, and the fifth and final arupa jhana is the state of the cessation of the habitual activity of perception and sensation.

    I have to say reading John Loori that for me, it’s more about the loss of a sense of “I am the doer, mine is the doer” with regard to this consciousness-informed body; this is admittedly only the experience of the fourth of the initial meditative states, and I don’t experience bliss. A kind of happiness, yes, but it’s an immaterial happiness, not associated with the six senses. If I can say that. Nevertheless, the Gautamid himself stated that in the final cessation, the disturbance that is the six senses is still present; Loori makes no mention of this experience. A perfect recognition is a problem to me, not a further escape. Maybe there was a larger context?

  20. Andy
    Andy August 20, 2012 at 4:36 am |

    “In the Shobogenzo, “Bendowa” (1231), Dogen succinctly enunciates his Zen: “The endeavor to negotiate the Way (bendo), as I teach now, consists in discerning all things in view of enlightenment, and putting such a unitive awareness (ichinyo) into practice in the midst of the revaluated world (shutsuro).” This statement clearly sets forth practitioners’ soteriological project as negotiating the Way in terms of (1) discerning the nondual unity of all things that are envisioned from the perspective of enlightenment and (2) enacting that unitive vision amid the everyday world of duality now revalorized by enlightenment. Needless to say, these two aspects refer to practice and enlightenment that are nondually one (shusho itto; shusho ichinyo).”

    – Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen On Meditation and Thinking

    I think the above is interesting in regard to both the moral/ethical posts about Brad’s article as well as, perhaps, the other stuff about dualistic thinking etc.

    It seems to me that damaging behaviour on the part of so-called ‘zen masters’, or those frequenting the role of legitimized teacher, may stem from the backward steps inherent to such institutional modes. Such human beings may have enacted a unitive vision (born of discerning non-duality) in their everyday world many times, but institutional habits may over time tip the balance with regards to maintaining the habits of on-going practice-enlightenment.

    Once you have fixed upon the notion that you are the legitimate teacher, all sorts of things can creep in, based on your own tendencies, inclinations and past baggage. One is already veering away from the notion that yesterday’s unitive vision is already a fiction to be re-enacted, revaluated, re-valorised. Institutionalised and institutionalising behaviour by their very nature are geared to fixing yesterdays truths as tomorrow’s opportunity. Yet heritage can quickly degrade into the sense, and mere politics of, entitlement.

    I think the sense of futility expressed about the value of ‘zen’ as some overarching reality is to some extent based on the same kind of institutional leanings. Leanings I think we must all, as social animals, keep recognising we have. In some ways, the iconoclastic, anarchistic attitudes and views recurrent in Zen Buddhism, which intersect with similar, well established ones in the West, can give rise to assumptions that one is free of such leanings – that they too can’t involve certain ideological forms of behaviour that may gravitate towards a cozy, recidivistic nest in the well-established forms of an ancient and exotic Eastern tradition. Free Love meets the seductions and exploitations of authority via the fetishisations of the whisk and robes, so to speak.

    In the light of the damage caused by such teachers, I think it is important to ask how practice in certain situations took, and more genrally can take, such backward steps (including asking whether, in fact, behaviour has been unethical or immoral), and from this formulate the sorts of checks and balances needed to help students keep on legitimising their teacher(s) and to protect both parties from harm they may cause to themselves, their Sangha, and in some cases the rest of the world’s view of the Dharma.

  21. anon 108
    anon 108 August 20, 2012 at 4:51 am |

    SoF – Your reply makes me doubt whether I correctly understood your previous post. It also makes me doubt whether you correctly understood my questions – questions which may have been based on misunderstandings. Thanks anyway…for trying to clarify your beliefs.

  22. Andy
    Andy August 20, 2012 at 4:53 am |

    “I think the sense of futility expressed about the value of ‘zen’ as some overarching reality is to some extent based on the same kind of institutional leanings.”

    I’d like to be clearer about what I was getting at there:

    I think the sense of futility expressed about the value of ‘zen’, as though it were in itself an over-arching institutional reality thrown into question by the particular (if repeated) behaviour of some individuals’ with extrinsically legitimised status, is to some extent based on the same kind of institutional leanings.

  23. Fred
    Fred August 20, 2012 at 5:38 am |

    Yeah, that makes it much clearer.

  24. Andy
    Andy August 20, 2012 at 9:25 am |

    @Fred. Clearer doesn’t mean simpler. Although sometimes I do end up tying myself in all sorts of knots attempting to be clear about what I am and am not getting at.

    “Awareness with no object is awareness with no object”?

  25. Andy
    Andy August 20, 2012 at 9:48 am |

    “I think the sense of futility expressed in some quarters about the value of ‘zen’ (as though ‘zen’ were some uniform and over-arching reality experienced by different practioners) after hearing of the particular actions of some individuals with extrinsically legitimised status, is to some extent based on the same kind of institutional leanings.”

    I hope this is better.

  26. Fred
    Fred August 20, 2012 at 10:40 am |

    True that if there was such a thing as truth.

  27. SoF
    SoF August 20, 2012 at 4:44 pm |

    San Francisco Zen Center is 50 (years young).
    Wind Bell Vol. 42, 1012 marks the event.

    Drop by if you are in the area – tell ’em Chas_in_CA sent you.


  28. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 20, 2012 at 4:53 pm |


    My simplistic understanding is that the first four rupa jhanas refer to the transcendence of the material, sensual aspects of craving, whereas the second four (or five, depending on what one includes) arupa jhanas refer to more subtle, “spiritual” forms of craving. So while the fifth arupa may signal a general transcendence of sensual, material cravings, it’s not the end of craving altogether. One can, for example, experience all kinds of “heavenly blisses”, and lifetimes in subtle realms where one knows great joy and pleasure for epic eons of time. And yet, this is not what Gautama refers to as nirvana, but is just another, subtler form of craving and dukkha. It’s still bondage in other words.

    In fact, Gautama says that even with the completion of the jhanas, there is no final deliverance from craving. Insight is still required, such that craving never returns. That final insight has to do with the penetration of the illusion of the “I” altogether, I gather, so that there is no experiencer of the jhanas, and no possible re-ignition of the flame of tanha, since all that depends on the illusion of the “I”.

    I think that the continuation of sensual experience even after nirvana, the cessation of tanha and dukkha, merely means that it all becomes channa, or “desire unconditioned by ignorance”. Meaning that life continues, eating, drinking, perception and the full round of life continues, even sex and enjoyment, but one is no longer ignorantly pursuing these things in order to fulfill this false sense of “I”. Life goes on freely, without “oneself” living it. So it is not contradictory, nor is it some sort of nihilistic negation of life or existence.

    I think Gautama was in this respect directly contradicting the claims of some Brahmanical teachers that the senses themselves must come to an end in order to be fully released from bondage, in some kind of perfect “formlessness”.

  29. SoF
    SoF August 20, 2012 at 9:18 pm |

    I think that is safe to say: “Buddhism is a reaction to Brahmanism.”

    I would not use the word ‘rejection.’

    Siddhartha Gautama was the first notorious psychologist. He looked at the human condition (suffering) and he sought to describe the cause (craving or desire).

    Simple people living simple lives can be relatively happy.

    Sahara dwellers, if aware of refrigeration, might crave a refrigerator. I think Lenin (Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov) described this as dialectical materialism. Eskimos might likewise crave an arctic rated house with central heating – if only they knew.

    Lao Tsu once said: “A young man should never leave his village.” Knowledge of material things can make one a materialist.

    However, growing up in a materialistic world (my house, my car, my wife, my children, my European vacation, &tc) we have the problem of downsizing. And that was Siddhartha Gautama’s problem. Born a prince in the Kshatriya (samurai) caste, he was unhappy with the fleeting transience of life.

    He missed the Official Video.

    And he missed the OLDER version.

    But then so did I – to no ill effect.

  30. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 20, 2012 at 10:52 pm |

    broken yog, I don’t find any reference to craving in connection with the jhanas apart from the cessation of the craving for again-becoming in the final arupa jhana.

    I know that the Gautamid said that an arahant could not possibly engage in intercourse. So I take what he had to say about enlightenment with a grain of salt, I’m afraid, since the most inspiring Zen teacher I’ve met was married. I’m also mindful of the division of the order around whether or not an arahant could be seduced in a dream (have a wet dream)- at least, that’s the way A.K. Warder tells it in “Buddhist India”, and I thought his scholarship seemed very thorough. Split the order, that one point of contention, into what was ultimately Hinayana and Mahayana.

    In spite of which, I am very interested in the practice that Gautama described as his own, and a great deal of my effort appears centered on discovering for myself how to begin that practice. To sit down cross-legged and set mindfulness in front is the prelude to his “development of mind that is mindfulness of in-breaths and out-breaths”, and yet for me I might as well be explaining what the goddess Isis is holding to Nefertari’s nose, or why she has horns and a sun and a snake on her head, as to talk about sitting down cross-legged and setting mindfulness in front.

  31. Andy
    Andy August 21, 2012 at 1:03 am |

    Are you able to use html for italics and bold etc., in these comments posts?

  32. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 21, 2012 at 1:23 am |

    I wasn’t aware Gautama saw enlightenment and sex as exclusive avenues. Not sure I understand why that would be. After all, sex is just a pleasurable bodily function, like breathing. And breathing can be awfully pleasurable, if you do it right. Of course, your friend might not be enlightened, which might also be why he’s so inspiring. Those two might be mutually exclusive as well.

    Then again, better minds than mine have puzzled through these things.

  33. Padma@MyBuddhistLife
    Padma@MyBuddhistLife August 21, 2012 at 5:13 am |

    Great post (as per usual). I wrote something about avoiding the pitfalls of Buddhist groups a little while ago.

    It’s a good point that people receive genuine benefit from the Dharma and worry that scandals will undermine its foothold in the west. I also think there’s so much projection on teachers that when they do something that is obviously bang out of order, people can take literally years to work out they aren’t just trying to help you break through to enlightenment! I am looking forward to the day when the Dharma is so much a part of Western life that messed up behaviour by teachers is recognised as just that.

    I think your blog, coupled with your zen master status, is really helpful in breaking down some of the messed up ideas.

    I also don’t think we’ll really have a Western Buddhism until concepts like grievance procedures, independent confidential counselling and check and balances are a standard part of the way sanghas organise themselves.

  34. Fred
    Fred August 21, 2012 at 7:40 am |

    “I know that the Gautamid said that an arahant could not possibly engage in intercourse”

    An erection is a physical act based on a mental process rooted in desire. An
    arahant has conqured the afflictions, so why would they engage in an act that
    is not just a mechanical process free from craving.

    You might even argue that the greater the craving for a certain special other
    person, the bigger and harder the erection.

  35. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 21, 2012 at 10:17 am |

    “An erection is a physical act based on a mental process rooted in desire.”

    Well, no. Most of my erections occur as spontaneously as my breathing. Often quite unwanted. Just because one is free of craving, doesn’t mean one has no body and all its various functions intact. One just has no egoic motive. But the body does what it does. And one of the things it does, is have sex. We can control that, but we can’t eliminate it.

    As mentioned before, tanha is craving conditioned by ignorance, not the normal bodily desires for food, survival, sex, etc. When one is no longer ignorant, one lives the bodily life free of tanha, but not devoid of all normal bodily desires. One doesn’t have to follow through on those desires, one is capable of great discipline, but one has no attachment to such disciplines either. One might be celibate, one might not. These are not what matters.

    It’s understandable why sex would be associated with tanha, since it grips must of us very strongly. But it isn’t at all the same thing.

  36. SoF
    SoF August 21, 2012 at 11:25 am |


    I don’t know

    Why do you ask?

  37. SoF
    SoF August 21, 2012 at 11:26 am |


    The answer is no,

    I trued font color, italics, and bold in the previous comment – all to no effect.

  38. Fred
    Fred August 21, 2012 at 12:27 pm |

    Yogi, sex is in the mind not the body.

    And an ego desires it.

  39. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 21, 2012 at 12:44 pm |


    Biology, physiology, evolution, and common sense says otherwise.

    What could be called “craving conditioned by ignorance” is in the mind. But sex, like breathing, eating, and all other physiological mechanisms, are in the body.

    Egos desire all kinds of things, it doesn’t make those thing “egoic” or unenlightened. It’s egoic desire that’s egoic, not the objects or mechanism exploited by the ego.

    Sex is utterly intrinsic to the body’s own existence. Without sex, the body itself would not exist, nor would any other bodies. That’s why the body desires sex, regardless of whether the mind is egoic or not. Just as the body desires to breath, because without it, the body would die. It’s not unenlightened to breath, is it? Nor is it unenlightened to have a penis that gets erect at the sight of fertile young women. It’s what the body does. You don’t have to do whatever the body wants to do, but it’s just creating more delusion to think that one has to deny the body’s wants and desires to be enlightened.

  40. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 21, 2012 at 12:46 pm |


    I think Brad must not have activated html for comments. He probably doesn’t know how. And neither do I, for that matter.

  41. buddy
    buddy August 21, 2012 at 12:54 pm |

    Seeing as this zen blog is again being taken over by hinayana talk of arhats and an enlightened person not being interested in sex and whatnot, here’s a little mahayana courtesy of wiki:
    ‘In contrast to the goal of becoming a fully enlightened buddha, the path of a ?r?vaka in being motivated by seeking personal liberation from sa?s?ra, is often portrayed as selfish and undesirable. There are even some Mah?y?na texts that regard the aspiration to arhatship and personal liberation as an outside path. Instead of aspiring for arhatship, Mah?y?na Buddhists are urged to instead take up the path of a bodhisattva, and to not fall back to the level of arhats and ?r?vakas.Therefore, it is taught that an arhat must go on to become a bodhisattva eventually. If they fail to do so in the lifetime in which they reach the attainment, they will fall into a deep sam?dhi of emptiness, thence to be roused and taught the bodhisattva path, presumably when ready. According to the Lotus S?tra (Skt. Saddharmapu??ar?ka S?tra), any true arhat will eventually accept the Mah?y?na path.
    The Mah?y?na teachings often consider the ?r?vaka path to be motivated by fear of sa?s?ra, which renders them incapable of aspiring to buddhahood, and that they therefore lack the courage and wisdom of a bodhisattva.’

    Here’s a nice zen story I heard just yesterday:

    ‘Once upon a time there was an old woman who supported a retired hermit for some twenty years. For a long time, she sent a young girl to serve his food. One day she told the girl to throw her arms around the monk and ask him how he felt. When the girl did so, the monk told her, “I am like a withered tree propped up against a cold boulder after three winters. Nowhere is there any warmth.” The girl went back to the old woman and made her report. “Twenty years wasted feeding a phony layman!” exclaimed the woman. Then she ran him off and burnt his hut to the ground.

    The grandmotherly old woman tried to give that rascal a ladder.
    To provide the pure monk with a nice bride.
    If tonight I were to be made such a proposition,
    The withered willow would put forth new spring growth.’

  42. buddy
    buddy August 21, 2012 at 1:00 pm |

    Amen, BY, your comments on this thread have been very well played.

  43. boubi
    boubi August 21, 2012 at 1:25 pm |

    What are we talking about here?

    “Zen”, “master”, “enlightenment”, “morale” …

    Who knows something about it please stand up, a couple of people who got transmission should know … we, the rest just don’t.

    So i find rather pointless reading about endless sutra’s citations, talking about “something” WE (including me, myself) don’t know shit about.

    A master of something is a master of that thing, he masters physics but we don’t expect him/her to be “moral”, moral which would be what? Some stratified cultural, societal deposit, taboo from some patriarcal clan boss (in our western society)?

    From what i’ve heard in the “old times” in Zen monastries, to be a nice teen, good looking novice, smooth skinned, soft limbs, would mean to get buggered by some senior dweller of the above mentioned monastry*. As reported by travelers.

    Oh my gosh ! ! ! ! !

    Here we aren’t even talking about teens (not children), we are talking about two ADULTS.

    What chess master fucking (that’s the word) a pupil and chess are unmoral?

    Which moral are talking about by the way? Teabagger’s one? The one that killed on the stake “a few “people for putting it in the wrong hole?

    And what is that thing “enlightenment” that the vast majority of us has just read about? What are the consequences of it? Do the entail some moral orientation, and which moral, european, indian, esquimo, beduin ?

    * I doubt it was very different in european monastries …

  44. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 21, 2012 at 1:49 pm |

    buddy, you might want to look at the oldest historical record of the teachings of Gautama (later called the Buddha) to see for yourself what’s going on. If you read those texts, you will have trouble believing that the man Gautama did not have human faults. Especially his view of women is troubling to me, statements like the one about women being ready to ensnare a man even on their dying day, or about a monk being better off putting his member into the mouth of a deadly snake than into a woman.

    I’m not really surprised that: 1) he stated that enlightened individuals couldn’t possibly have intercourse; 2) the entire order of monks that he established eventually split into two camps over the issue of whether an enlightened monk could have a wet dream; 3) the order of nuns died out, having arrived to a day where five nuns could not be found to ordain a new nun.

    You can also read that he was strikingly handsome and charismatic and that other teachers worried their students would be swayed by his looks alone.

    In short, the guy was quite human. The place that he is unparalleled is in his teaching on the nature of suffering (again, it’s ‘this is suffering’, not ‘life is suffering’, and suffering in short is the five groups of grasping), and his teaching regarding the meditative states (side note: Yuanwu, the famous 12th century Chan teacher and author of “The Blue Cliff Record”, was quite aware of the five groups; how come most Zen students in the U.S.A. today are not?). I don’t believe you will find anything like what’s in the Pali Canon Sutta volumes in any of those texts that are attributed to later manifestations of the Buddha (who is described as now having appeared to offer the teachings that folks weren’t ready for the first time around).

  45. boubi
    boubi August 21, 2012 at 3:03 pm |

    BTW, if i remind rightly Brad Werner was criticized by some tight assed self righteous buddhist “master” for writing in the site Suicide Girls, which was considered as quite “non moral”.

    And to my recall * Nijishima’s answer was something like “so what”

    * Go to see “Total recall” 2012 – WOW ! You can find in it from “Metropolis”, to “Blade runner” to “Tron 2” and some more

  46. SoF
    SoF August 21, 2012 at 3:20 pm |

    Sex is nature, not mind.

    A plant has no mind and yet there are male and female parts…

    Also, mindless republicans seem to procreate…

  47. buddy
    buddy August 21, 2012 at 4:53 pm |

    Mark, not only did I not say anything about ‘believing that the man Gautama did not have human faults’, but I never mentioned him at all. But since you bring it up, the fact that a lot of his views are so obviously conditioned by his cultural/genetic/religious etc circumstances is exactly why I prefer the deconstructionist, evolutionary, Mahayana side of the street. The germ of his teaching continues to grow and morph (and of course decline and pervert) as it encounters different cultures, philosophies, sciences etc. And as Dogen equates Buddha nature with impermanence, that seems more than appropriate.

  48. boubi
    boubi August 21, 2012 at 5:08 pm |

    Nature, mind, body.

    More the time passes less i see a difference, maybe because fed up.

    And about sex, what you find in between your legs is a starting point, and you still have a few different options of use.

    Fishes for sure and maybe even reptiles have the possibility to change sex depending on environmental stress or lack of other gender.

  49. Khru
    Khru August 21, 2012 at 10:54 pm |

    Good God, these comments are shockingly horrible.

  50. Andy
    Andy August 22, 2012 at 1:20 am |

    @ Chas

    Same for me. I’d tried to highlight some lines in the Hee-Jin Kim quotation in bold, but to no effect. Then I saw that Mark Foote had a nifty link to a picture, and wondered if I might have been getting things wrong. I’m no great shakes with html and the likes.

    Shame, if you can’t to that sort of thing here, though. Maybe it’s to keep the calm simplicity of the text here consistent. Or does WordPress comments do have that functionality?

Comments are closed.