THE 6th AND 7th PRECEPTS


I am stunned and amazed by the response to that last post. It proves once again that I have no idea when I’m being controversial and when I’m not. I’ve put posts up here previously that I was certain would set off riots with blood flowing freely through the streets and no one seemed even to have noticed. Then something like my thing about Big Mind™ — which I felt was a pretty minor rant, standard issue for me and a tad boring — doesn’t just get over 140 responses here, but sets off a long, long thread at something called the Buddhist Community E-Sangha (don’t ask me, I never heard of it before someone sent me the link). Maybe it’s cold out in most of the country this time of year and people don’t have much else to do but sit and type on their computers.

I looked at most of the comments. Some were pretty impressive. The one video link someone posted of Ken Wilber wired up to what looks like an Etch-a-Sketch with blinking Christmas tree lights Scotch-taped to it to prove he can go into the most macho deep Samadhi the world has ever known is classic, by the way. Honestly, I cannot even comprehend why anyone would fall for something like that.

The comments about the sixth and seventh precepts deserve a little discussion, though. These are the precepts telling us not to criticize others (or “other Buddhists” as it is sometimes given) or to be proud of ourselves and slander others. One of the great problems I see in Buddhism today is the way these precepts can be twisted to give just about anything deflector shields worthy of a Klingon Bird of Prey against all criticism by anyone involved in Buddhism merely by stating that what one is doing is a form of Buddhist practice. The very worst example of this was in 1995 after the “Buddhist Master” Shoko Asahara used poison gas on the Tokyo subways. My friend Taijun, a Japanese Buddhist nun, paid close attention to the TV, newspaper and magazine coverage of that event in Japan. Though a huge number of Buddhist monks and nuns were interviewed about Asahara, and though all of them condemned the attack, not one of the monks or nuns Taijun saw or read about said that what Asahara taught was not Buddhism. It’s as if they couldn’t bring themselves to cross that line.

Since the Sixties, words like Enlightenment, Awakening, Satori, Kensho and all the rest have entered into our language and popular culture. Lots of people think they want these experiences, but have no idea just what they really are. As long as the deep confusion about these words remains, it’s easy for unscrupulous people to define anything they please as Enlightenment. In the Sixties and Seventies lots of folks in the West thought that the brain damage caused by the use of various psychoactive chemicals was Enlightenment. A few years ago a couple of pinhead burn-outs tried to revive that idea with a popular book and, amazingly, found a large number of supposed “Buddhists” who either supported or were unwilling to criticize their position. Now we have organizations trying to promote the idea that Enlightenment is something that can be had instantly through some special technique that — Surprise! Surprise! —they just happen to hold the patent on.

One of the posters at Suicide Girls pointed out that the purported Buddhist Master I’d criticized there recently was the head of a large and highly respected Buddhist organization. I had actually deliberately left that detail out because, to me, that makes it all the more troubling. So long as no one from that group points out that what this man is selling is clearly unrelated in any way to Buddhism, the rest of us have to assume the organization as a whole supports and agrees with it. And that is a sad state of affairs.

It is very important for those who practice and teach Buddhism to be willing to speak out when some popular trend claiming to be Buddhist is clearly not. That doesn’t always mean shouting from a soapbox. But maintaining noble silence may not be the only alternative. As Buddhism becomes more fashionable and establishes itself as a mainstream philosophy the tendency for all manner of charlatans to latch on to the air of sanctity available to anything that labels itself “Buddhist” will only increase. If we don’t criticize these things because we fear we may violate the precepts we’re doing a terrible disservice to people who want to know what real Buddhism actually is.

287 Responses

  1. Dan
    Dan March 10, 2007 at 11:28 am | |

    Or do all of you think that the Dalai Lama, to use an obvious example, isn’t a “Real Buddhist” because he doesn’t practice Zen and is a Vajrayana teacher and practitioner?

    the dalai lama meditates evry day nd he stresses the importsnce of daily meditaion. i have a very deep respect for dalai lama for saying this

  2. Jinzang
    Jinzang March 10, 2007 at 1:34 pm | |

    I saw the trailer for The Host and it looks like it’s going to be a really good flick. If Asian monster movies are your thing, keep an eye out for it.

  3. Uku
    Uku March 10, 2007 at 1:40 pm | |

    Geez, you’re still arguing about this subject. Wow, ego speaking, hello.

    What is real buddhism? Who cares. Stop whining and wasting your time in here. Find out yourself who you are and come back after finding something about the real world that some jerks call the reality.

    Why I have cat food in my closet even though I don’t have a cat?

    Gassho.

  4. Esmerelda
    Esmerelda March 10, 2007 at 2:37 pm | |

    This discussion of ‘Real Buddhism’ is quite strange. Most of the people in the world who are Buddhists do not do the things that the posters think define ‘real Buddhism’. It is as though some who converts to Christianity decides to become a ‘Trappist Monk’ and insists that all the other Christians are not ‘real’.

    Maybe people should read a little about the topic before they start writing about about it. I would also like it if Anonymous posts were blocked again. Just so we can keep track of who said what. Please get a name guys. Thanks

  5. Hammy
    Hammy March 10, 2007 at 3:28 pm | |

    Top Cat! The most effectual Top Cat! Who’s intellectual close friends get to call him T.C., providing it’s with dignity. Top Cat! The indisputable leader of the gang. He’s the boss, he’s a pip, he’s the championship. He’s the most tip top, Top Cat.

  6. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 10, 2007 at 4:35 pm | |

    Best Regards From Hard Core Satori Crew

    http://offzen.org/index.php

  7. 208
    208 March 10, 2007 at 5:28 pm | |

    208

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 10, 2007 at 6:19 pm | |

    signal-to-noise ratio approaching
    zero

  9. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf March 10, 2007 at 10:37 pm | |

    Come check out:

    The Blog of Lone Wolf.

    But…Beware! Ha Ha Ha He He He cough cough ehmm.

    I’m going to see Frank Miller’s 300 tommorow. I may write a review on it.

  10. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf March 10, 2007 at 10:39 pm | |

    Tonight I’m going to party like I’m number 211… Whooohooo!

  11. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf March 10, 2007 at 11:19 pm | |

    Don’t forget to click the link to my photo blog called “Picturesque Pieces” where I show photos taken with my Panasonic Lumix LZ3.

    Come see the mircle of the golden mystical blob that is rising from the toilet of my personal copy of Hardcore Zen.

    It’s a spirtual mircle!

    Picturesque Pieces –
    http://lonewolf108blog.blogspot.com/

    The Blog of Lone Wolf –
    http://lonewolf333.blogspot.com/

  12. Mockney Rebel
    Mockney Rebel March 11, 2007 at 12:44 am | |

    I just read Brad’s latest skit over on SuicideGirls. It seems odd that Brad is happy to ‘out’ fake buddhist teachers who make spurious claims about teaching credentials and lineage etc, and yet at the same time give a big-up to Daniel ‘dharma dan’ Ingram :p

    My experience of ‘Dharma Dan’ is that he makes statements and then runs away as soon as anyone with the slightest knowledge of buddhism tries to engage him in a debate regarding his supposed enlightened state.

  13. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2007 at 1:46 am | |

    Well, it’s a bit late to add my little lone voice to the huge outcry that has become the comments section on this particular post, but in case Brad gets around to scanning the comments….

    Well said, well reasoned. The Soto Zen group I sit with may not be the most exciting people in the world. In fact, sometimes I don’t think I have much in common with the other members of the small group. Maybe no one there is a great teacher. Maybe none of us are great students. Maybe our discussions occasionally are banal or trivial.

    But by gosh at least they’re sincere and not frauds trying to sell something. Kudos, Brad, for pointing out that criticism serves a useful, maybe even noble purpose.

    DB

    Sorry to be posting as “Anonymous” but Google seems to have trashed my account or something.

  14. Ryushin
    Ryushin March 11, 2007 at 6:16 am | |

    Now I know nothing of this Big Mind stuff but, Brad is happy to out “fake” Buddhist teachers and “fake” sects of Zen.

    But what would Brad say if he were around during the mid-Edo period?

    What would Brad say about Tosui, or Suzuki Shosan, Dokuan Genko, Daigu, Ungo, all of whom were jigo jisho (self-enlightened and self certified)?

    These famous Zen masters went on to revive Zen practice which had been in serious decline since the late Sengoku period.

    During the Edo period it wasn’t unusual at all to see Rinzai, Soto and Obaku priests practising side by side and incorporating one another’s teachings and methods. Nowadays, however, Soto and Rinzai priests fight like cats and dogs over which method is the best!

    It was also not unusual to see Zen priests practising some of the more esoteric Mikkyo methods of Tendai and Shingon during the Edo period, especially in Soto Zen. So Soto Zen then would be “fake” too Brad, no?

    And as for the topic of “real” Buddhism, is Zen today “real” Zen. After having been influenced greatly by Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity,etc……can you still say it is “real” Zen? What is meant by “real” anyhow?

    What types of reform or reinvention are permitted and which are not?

  15. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2007 at 7:15 am | |

    what’s wrong with wrong zen when you know you’ve ‘got’ yours?

  16. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2007 at 7:17 am | |

    what would be said to genpo roshi’s mother?

  17. daniel
    daniel March 11, 2007 at 11:04 am | |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. Dan
    Dan March 11, 2007 at 11:06 am | |

    Nowadays, however, Soto and Rinzai priests fight like cats and dogs over which method is the best!

    really?

    And as for the topic of “real” Buddhism, is Zen today “real” Zen. After having been influenced greatly by Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity,etc……can you still say it is “real” Zen? What is meant by “real” anyhow?

    look, all i was trying to say is that any respectable teacher will tell you that daily meditation is essential to what a buddhist actually DOES (not what he believes etc). as for meditating while not sitting this is a fair point but there is no logic in saying ‘ meditating is important in your daily life while cooking cleaning etc ‘ and using that as a way to somehow take away from the importance of daily sitting meditation. without daily sitting meditation, remaining mindful/in the present etc through out the whole rest of the day is incredibly difficult.

  19. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2007 at 11:17 am | |

    look, all i was trying to say is that any respectable teacher will tell you that daily meditation is essential to what a buddhist actually DOES (not what he believes etc).

    You do not consider Bankei to be a respectable teacher?

  20. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2007 at 11:19 am | |

    another anonymous said:

    “what would be said to
    genpo roshi’s mother?”

    To Mrs. Merzel:

    You’ve raised yourself a scam artist
    who preys upon the vulnerable and
    the gullible…

    nice job, lady!

  21. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2007 at 12:26 pm | |

    nice job, Brad!

  22. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2007 at 12:43 pm | |

    223

  23. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2007 at 3:54 pm | |

    224

  24. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2007 at 4:08 pm | |

    225!

  25. aumeye
    aumeye March 11, 2007 at 4:42 pm | |

    I have to wonder if the anonymous posts that are just a current post “count,” such as the three preceding this post, are meant to annoy, or if it’s just innocent fun and I am reacting from poor judgment . At intervals, I check to see if there are some new posts on this robust and entertaining thread. When a few more appear, I open it to see what new wisdom has been added, only to scroll down to find 223, 224, 225 . . .

  26. aumeye
    aumeye March 11, 2007 at 5:42 pm | |

    I hate it when temptation gets the better of me. If I could delete the above post, I would. To my surprise, I cannot . . . sorry.

  27. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2007 at 6:26 pm | |

    228 – me too, sorry! no more.

  28. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2007 at 9:58 pm | |

    “Western Zen” seems to me to be “imitation Zen.”

    What’s with all the Japanese robes, Japanese chanting, Japanese ritual, Japanese rules, Japanese Buddhist names…?

    When Buddhism was adopted by the Chinese, all texts were CONVERTED to Chinese. The Chinese didn’t wear Indian robes (Kesa excluded). The Chanting wasn’t in Indian. When the Japanese adopted Buddhism it was the same, Japanese robes (koromo), Japanese texts, Japanese names….

    Why isn’t “Western Buddhism” in English, with “Western clothes” and “Western names?”

    Is it the Japanese clothes, names, chanting, tatami, ikebana, shomyo, etc etc that makes it Zen?

    Imitators!

  29. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2007 at 5:17 am | |

    “……….we’re doing a terrible disservice to people who want to know what real Buddhism actually is.”

    I think this blog is certainly doing Buddhism a disservice.

    It sounds a lot like the old “Catholics aren’t real Christians,” or “Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult” type of mentality.

    Isn’t Buddhism a personal religion? Does it really matter which sect one practices or whether one’s teacher is “recognised” by the “Grand Poo Bah” of such and such sect?

    Aren’t the many types of Buddhism simply individual interpretations? And are these interpretations forbidden?

    It appears to me that “Brad All knowing” is convinced that ONLY Zen is the REAL Buddhist path. What a shame.

  30. Dan
    Dan March 12, 2007 at 6:01 am | |

    You do not consider Bankei to be a respectable teacher?

    who he?

  31. Dan
    Dan March 12, 2007 at 6:07 am | |

    ” It is likely that Bankei began practicing Shin Buddhism during this time. It is known that when Bankei was 15 he trained at a Shingon temple, where he apparently gained some footing in sutra study. However, Bankei was not satisfied with the Shingon approach and left that following year. At 16 he walked from Hamada to Ako to see a Rinzai Zen priest named Umpo Zenjo at Zuio-ji. Bankei wasted no time with Umpo and implored him on the meaning of bright virtue, to which Umpo advised the only path toward such understanding could be had through the practice of ZAZEN. Bankei was intrigued by this advice and ordained as a monk at Zuio-ji under Umpo. It was here he received his Buddhist name Y?taku (meaning ‘Long Polishing of the Mind Gem’)”

    this is from the wikipedia entry on this dude. obviously he considered zazen very important then.

  32. gniz
    gniz March 12, 2007 at 6:19 am | |

    I’m curious as to what the other poster brought up about not doing the chants in English, adopting American style clothes/robes, etc.

    It does seem that we Americans feel if something is somehow foreign or exotic, that makes it more “spiritual” than homegrown stuff.

    So we like to put on Japanese Robes and call ourselves “Genpo” and “Roshi” and take on other names.

  33. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2007 at 6:22 am | |

    Bankei

    (1622-1693) — his “Song of Original Mind”

    Unborn and imperishable
    Is the original mind
    Earth, water, fire and wind
    A temporary lodging for the night

    Attached to this
    Ephemeral burning house
    You yourselves light the fire, kindle the flames
    In which you’re consumed
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    Keep your mind as it was
    When you came into the world
    And instantly this very self
    Is a living “thus-come” one

    Ideas of
    What’s good , what’s bad
    All due to
    This self of yours

    In winter, a bonfire
    Spells delight
    But when summertime arrives
    What a nuisance it becomes!

    And the breezes
    You loved in summer
    Even before the autumn’s gone
    Already have become a bother
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    Throwing your whole life away
    Sacrificed to the thirst for gold
    But when you saw your life was through
    All your money was no use

    Clinging, craving and the like
    I don’t have them on my mind
    That’s why nowadays I can say
    The whole world is truly mine!
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    Since, after all this floating world
    Is unreal
    Instead of holding onto things in
    Your mind, go and sing!

    Only original mind exists
    In the past and in the future too
    Instead of holding onto things in
    Your mind, let them go!
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    Having created
    the demon mind yourself
    When it torments you mercilessly
    You’re to blame and no one else

    When you do wrong
    our mind’s the demon
    There’s no hell
    To be found outside

    Abominating hell
    Longing for heaven
    You make yourself suffer
    In a joyful world

    You think that good
    Means hating what is bad
    What’s bad is
    The hating mind itself
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    Fame, wealth, eating and
    drinking, sleep and sensual delight —
    Once you’ve leaned the Five Desires
    They become
    Your guide in life

    Notions of what one should do
    Never existed from the start
    Fighting about what’s right, what’s wrong
    That’s the doing of the “I”

    When your study
    Of Buddhism is through
    You find
    You haven’t anything new
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    If you think the mind
    That attains enlightenment
    Is “mine”
    Your thoughts will wrestle, one with the other

    These days I’m not bothering about
    Getting enlightenment all the time
    And the result is
    I wake up in the morning feeling fine!

    Praying for salvation in the world to come
    Praying for your own selfish ends
    Is only piling on more and more
    Self-centeredness and arrogance
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    Die — then live
    Day and night within the world
    Once you’ve done this, then you can
    Hold the world right in your hand!
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    If you search for the Pure Land
    Bent upon your own reward
    You’ll only find yourself
    despised
    By the Buddha after all!

    People have no enemies
    None at all right from the start
    You create them all yourself
    Fighting over right and wrong

    Clear are the workings of cause
    and effect
    You become deluded, but
    don’t know
    It’s something that you’ve done yourself
    That’s what’s called self- centeredness
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    Though the years may creep ahead
    Mind itself can never age
    This mind that’s
    Always just the same

    Wonderful! Marvelous!
    When you’ve searched
    and found at last
    The one who never will grow old
    – “I alone!”

    The Pure Land
    Where one communes at peace
    Is here and now, it’s not remote
    Millions and millions of leagues away

    When someone tosses you a tea bowl
    – Catch it!
    Catch it nimbly with soft cotton
    With the cotton of your skillful mind!

  34. gunderloy
    gunderloy March 12, 2007 at 7:42 am | |

    I too have doubts about the benefits of chanting in japanese and taking on various japanese customs and custumes and then calling it buddhism. If you mention any of this stuff and how odd it feels, it gets pushed right back in your face as western arrogance to be gotten over or ego to be overcome. The only japanese words I need to hear are the proper names of a few teachers and that’s about all. Sometimes I think all this japanese posturing just comes from male fetishism and lusting after japanese women and not the the need for a traditional approach. I mean you all have japanese wives and girlfriends, right?

  35. Dan
    Dan March 12, 2007 at 8:04 am | |

    i’ve often thought that the chants etc should be in english at the group i meet with.

    i think the reason is that it’s still so new to the west. when buddhism first came to tibet it came as indian buddhism and then turned into tibetan. similarly with china it took ages for the texts to be translated into chinese. maybe we should have a bit of patience. i think by the time that the people reading this who are in their teens/twenties are middle aged then western zen will have become less japanese and the chants etc will all be in english.

    dont forget that until relatively recently. all of the chants prayers etc in english churches were in latin! (well i say recently – 100′s of years a go). we just need a bit of patience to wait for the west to be able to think of buddhism as a domestic religion. in the same way that it took time for christianity to not be considered a middle eastern religion.

    btw, that bankei poem was very nice but i’m not sure if it was tryingto prove some kind of point against my previous statements about the importance of zazen or whether u just published it cos it was a nice poem. these dam anon. posters! get accounts all of you so we can tell who’s who.

  36. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2007 at 11:16 am | |

    Bankei ruined his health in his youth by extreme practices. After his enlightenment he taught only ‘original mind’. He did not encourage, or even require, his students to practice zazen. Instead he taught that ‘original mind’ was for all people, lay and monk alike.

    When your study
    Of Buddhism is through
    You find
    You haven’t anything new

    Brad is free to use this blog for whyatever purpose he chooses (it is his blog after all), but I suspect the more he tries to define ‘REAL’ buddhism the less clarity he will actually reveal.

    Who is the Master that makes the grass green? :)

  37. daniel
    daniel March 12, 2007 at 11:58 am | |

    so what exactly is original mind then?

  38. Uku
    Uku March 12, 2007 at 12:05 pm | |

    daniel said…

    so what exactly is original mind then?

    11:58 AM

    Why don’t you find out yourself? Try some zazen or other meditation. ;)

  39. MikeDoe
    MikeDoe March 12, 2007 at 12:08 pm | |

    so what exactly is original mind then?”

    Rougly it’s the mind you had as a very young child before you learnt that eating slugs was ‘wrong’ and that ‘shit’ is rude word….

  40. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2007 at 12:30 pm | |

    It appears to me that “Brad All knowing” is convinced that ONLY Zen is the REAL Buddhist path. What a shame.

    Here’s something Brad wrote a while back:

    When I first started studying Buddhism with Gudo Nishijima as my teacher, the thing that bugged me most about him — the thing that had me so pissed I decided on numerous occasions that I was finished with his crap for good, only to find myself back in a couple weeks — was his insistence that what he taught was True Buddhism. The implication was that anything which deviated from his view of what Buddhism ought to be was unworthy of the name. He often went so far as to single out whole Buddhist traditions, schools of thought that had existed for centuries and claimed millions of loyal followers, and say they were pretty much a waste of time. He sounded just like one of those bouffant haired, white suit wearing obnoxious preachers I used to see on American TV all the time (before they started resigning after being involved in sex and money scandals).

    But the other day someone at one of my lectures asked me why I kept talking about “true Buddhism” and asked how all the other Buddhist schools fit into the picture. She said I was sounding a little like a fundamentalist. Uh-oh…

    So I started wondering just how and why I’d somehow been brainwashed into not only accepting, but promoting Nishijima’s particular brand of religious fascism. How I can be so cocky as to say that I’ve got True Buddhism? It’s an arrogant claim to be sure. And honestly speaking, there is very little difference as far as verbal expression goes in my saying that what I’m spewing out here is True Buddhism and Jimmy Swaggart or Pat Robertson saying that their brand of Christianity is the only real Christianity there is.

    There is very little difference. But, as the fellow said about the fact that there’s almost no difference between men and women, vive le difference!

    Let’s step into the Wayback Machine and try to imagine what things were like when Gautama Buddha was doing his thing in India 2,500 years ago. After a lot of struggle and pain, Buddha noticed something truly startling. He discovered that the Truth of the Universe had been with him all along, that it was absurdly easy to see once you understood how to look. And he saw that this truth was available to anyone who could honestly look for it. But he also saw that human beings — himself included — love to deceive themselves. They’ll go to tremendous lengths to avoid reality. Lots of folks would rather suffer unbearable agony than face up to what they truly are and what the Universe actually is. At first he thought he would just keep his discovery to himself, that even if he did try to teach it, there was no one who would be willing to make the effort to understand. But then he changed his mind. He decided that even if no one ever got it, he had an obligation to his fellow human beings to at least try.

    Buddha’s teachings became extremely popular in India even during his lifetime. But, as with any such popular movement, the number of people who actually understood the teachings was extremely small. I imagine Buddha’s attitude was that even a misunderstood version of what he was trying to get across was better than anything else on the market. So he kept on speaking to whoever wanted to listen and hoped for the best. When you look at the history of early Buddhism (I recommend Schumann’s The Historical Buddha) you get the impression that a fair number of Buddha’s early followers weren’t exactly the crispiest Corn Flakes in the bowl. Some of the early sangha just did not get it at all. Still, after the man himself was gone, even the dopiest of his followers could legitimately say that they were there when the Master spoke and could, by extension, claim a certain degree of authority on the subject of his teachings even if they actually slept through most of the lectures they attended.

    Buddha’s ashes weren’t even cold before there were guys having heated arguments over the real meaning of what he said. Various councils were held in order to keep the sangha (group of monks) a unified whole. But the schisms had already formed. Still, real Buddhism remained. And against all odds it has persisted right up to the present day, like a stain you just can’t get out of your favorite pair of jockey shorts.

    The Zen lineage is pretty arrogant as a whole when it comes to the point of who’s really teaching what the Buddha taught. Of course, all the Buddhist lineages make the same claim. In fact, every sect of every religion in the world is adamant that they’ve got the real truth and everybody else is full of crap. These days, though, we don’t like that kind of talk. We want to be politically correct. We don’t like intolerant butt wads who claim their religion is the best. And us politically correct types are especially prone to be attracted to Zen which we often see as supporting all our idealistic views about tolerance and all that. So when we dig a bit deeper and find out Zen isn’t quite as PC as we thought, we’re pretty shocked. I know I sure as hell was.

    So why did I come back to Nishijima time and again in spite of the fact that he was clearly no better than any ordinary fire and brimstone preacher who claimed his religion was right? I came back because I could sense that, in spite of the fact that he talked exactly like those guys, his talk came from an entirely different place.

    The difference between Nishijima’s insistence that he teaches real Buddhism and one of those loud-mouth preachers you see on American TV’s insistence that he alone knows the real mind of God is not so much in what they claim, but the way they claim it. Religious fundamentalists are deeply fearful of anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe. This is because their beliefs are based not on reality, but on a shaky foundation of idealistic notions. Reality needs no support. It is what it is and that’s that. Ideas, on the other hand, need tremendous amounts of reinforcement on a constant basis. Ideas attempt to remain static while reality itself is constantly shape shifting into something new. Even the mental state that gave rise to a particular thought doesn’t remain. So it’s very hard to hold on to an idea. In fact, it’s not possible. Try it for yourself. The harder you try and hold on to your own ideas, the crazier you become. That’s one of the fundamental causes of most of the world’s problems; people’s attempts to hang on to static ideas in the face of an ever changing world. And that’s all our deepest beliefs really are. Just ideas. But we mistake our own ideas for reality all the time.

    On the other hand, Buddhism isn’t based on anyone’s ideas. It’s based on what is true. You can challenge an idea, and no matter how powerful that idea is you might come up with one that’s even better. But you can never challenge what’s true. You can try, lots of people do, but you’ll never win. The only secret a Buddhist has is the understanding that it’s futile to attempt to go against the truth. We don’t claim to understand the truth because the truth is beyond understanding. We’ve just learned to stop trying to fight it quite as much as most people do. This isn’t the same as throwing up your hands and saying, “Oh, I’ll never get it!” When you stop trying to fight against what’s true, a different kind of understanding emerges. Not an understanding which can be expressed in words. But something deeper. The deepest kind of understanding there can be. Sorry if that doesn’t sound PC. But I’m afraid it’s true.

    So, unlike a religious fundamentalist, someone who understands real Buddhism doesn’t bother to try and convince anyone he’s right. I once saw Nishijima end a discussion with a particularly block headed individual by saying, “It is your right to be mistaken.” You can stand next to the Rock of Gibraltar and kick it as much as you want for as long as you live. But that rock doesn’t care. It still ain’t going anywhere. A real Buddhist doesn’t need to feel that others support his or her beliefs. What people believe has no bearing at all on what’s true. A real Buddhist doesn’t even necessarily believe in all of his or her own beliefs. Like a good scientist, a Buddhist is ready to throw away any belief he or she holds the second it becomes clear that that belief conflicts with reality.

    There may be loads of people out there believing in a lot of screwball ideas and calling those ideas “Buddhism,” but that doesn’t change what Buddhism really is.

    But there’s another problem. How can a guy who wasn’t even born until 25 centuries after Gautama Buddha’s death, who never met the man, who doesn’t concur with what generations of respected scholars have concluded the Buddha’s words mean, how can such a person claim that what he says is real Buddhism especially in the face of the fact that almost no one else who claims to be a Buddhist agrees? There’s no easy answer to that one, I’m afraid, because asking that question is actually asking, “How can I recognize real Buddhism?” If you’re looking for a nice sound byte that sums it all up, you’re headed for disappointment. In order to answer this for yourself, you have to bravely face who and what you really are over and over and over again until you finally get to the core and you can’t deny the truth anymore. And then you have to keep on doing that for the rest of your life. Truth is not a static thing, nor is it the possession of any one human being let alone any group of human beings. It is a living fact. Align yourself with it and there is nowhere else you can go. That’s Buddhism.

    It’s tempting to want to just drop the word “Buddhism” altogether. If the word Buddhism has come to mean something other than what Buddha himself really intended why not just forget the word? It’s an attractive sounding idea. But I can’t do it cuz for me that’d be like rearranging the Willie Dixon’s song You Need Love, putting a psychedelic guitar break in the middle, changing the title to Whole Lotta Love and then claiming I wrote the thing. When Led Zeppelin did that they got sued. And though Gautama Buddha’s estate isn’t likely to come after me for ripping him off, I couldn’t claim that what I was teaching was something completely unconnected with any tradition and still keep a clear conscience.

  41. j
    j March 12, 2007 at 12:51 pm | |

    When we chant in Latin for Catholic Mass we don’t necessarily comprehend the words any better than when we chant the Zen litergy in Japanese. To paraphrase Joseph Campbell, we do this to be put in touch with the sublime. It’s not that we don’t want to understand. It doesn’t have to be exotic, but it needs to reach beyond words.

  42. Jinzang
    Jinzang March 12, 2007 at 1:44 pm | |

    Roughly it’s the mind you had as a very young child before you learnt that eating slugs was ‘wrong’ and that ‘shit’ is rude word….

    Since “original face” is a koan, it would be a little presumptuous of me to say what it is. But I do not think this you are correct. I like what Brad says better.

    When you stop trying to fight against what’s true, a different kind of understanding emerges. Not an understanding which can be expressed in words. But something deeper. The deepest kind of understanding there can be.

    I think this understanding is seeing the original face.

  43. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2007 at 3:57 pm | |

    “The Zen lineage is pretty arrogant as a whole when it comes to the point of who’s really teaching what the Buddha taught.”

    Can you say EGOTISTICAL?

  44. daniel
    daniel March 12, 2007 at 4:03 pm | |

    and now, to poke the hornet’s nest a little,

    how do you see the original face? through BM, chanting Hare Krishna over and over? zazen?

    everyone has different methods. the real question is, how to tell which methods work and which are clearly not going to.

    ” so what exactly is original mind then?”

    Rougly it’s the mind you had as a very young child before you learnt that eating slugs was ‘wrong’ and that ‘shit’ is rude word…. “

    i disagree. in my experience, in many ways very small children are incredibly self centered. they cannot yet comprehend that the world doesnt revolve around their wants and needs.

  45. j
    j March 12, 2007 at 5:27 pm | |

    “Roughly it’s the mind you had as a very young child before you learnt that eating slugs was ‘wrong’ and that ‘shit’ is a rude word…. “

    “i disagree. in my experience, in many ways very small children are incredibly self centered. they cannot yet comprehend that the world doesnt revolve around their wants and needs.”

    These are not two different minds. Children, as Brad is describing them, have access to the unconditioned mind. That doesn’t mean they are unselfish. Early on children don’t differentiate between “me” and “not me.” Then we teach them that this is wrong understanding. Then we hope, as adults, they realize that “me” and “not me” is an illusion.

  46. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2007 at 7:43 pm | |

    “These are not two different minds. Children, as Brad is describing them, have access to the unconditioned mind. That doesn’t mean they are unselfish. Early on children don’t differentiate between “me” and “not me.” Then we teach them that this is wrong understanding. Then we hope, as adults, they realize that “me” and “not me” is an illusion.”

    THE WORLD IS FLAT!

  47. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf March 12, 2007 at 9:58 pm | |

    Nice new article over at SG’s Brad.

    Now are you saying that the golden mystical blob that is rising out the toilet of my personaly copy of Hardcore Zen on my photo blog http://lonewolf108blog.blogspot.com/ is not your spiritual powers channeling through it, but mere light reflecting from my lamp?

    Well damn it.

  48. other
    other March 12, 2007 at 10:43 pm | |

    Through zazen I have clearly seen that I am a buttwipe. but I have not clearly seen how to not be a buttwipe. It seems like my true nature is to be a buttwipe. I want to change but I keep going back to being a buttwipe. I think I was better off when I didn’t know i was a buttwipe.

  49. Jinzang
    Jinzang March 13, 2007 at 5:37 am | |

    Bankei ruined his health in his youth by extreme practices.

    This is why he became enlightened.

    After his enlightenment he taught only ‘original mind’. He did not encourage, or even require, his students to practice zazen. Instead he taught that ‘original mind’ was for all people, lay and monk alike.

    This is why he had no successors.

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