Why I Am Not a Member of Clergy

I never really considered the possibility that I might be a “member of clergy” until three years ago. I was staying at Tassajara Zen Monastery and Greg Fain, the tanto (sort of like “spiritual director”) there said that they preferred all members of clergy to wear their robes at zazen. I was kind of taken aback. “Am I a member of clergy?” I asked. Greg said that according the way San Francisco Zen Center defines things, I was. Hm. Interesting.

I didn’t really accept SFZC’s definition (nor, for that matter, do I accept their definition that zazen is a “ceremony”), but I wore my robes to zazen that summer. What they hell. Might as well get some use out of the things.

But I don’t think that Zen monks are members of clergy and I never have. I certainly would not have become one if I did. People in the West seem to think of Zen monks — especially those who teach — either as members of clergy or as some kind of Eastern version of a psychologist. They’re wrong. Zen monks are something else.

I have always thought of Zen monks as part of the category of artisans who sometimes, but not always, take on apprentices. Sometimes if a person becomes skilled at making pottery or painting or playing the swarmandal she will take on apprentices who are interested in learning that skill for themselves. Artists and artisans who take on apprentices rarely have any sort of teacher training program. They generally start off by assigning various tasks to their apprentices that bear some relationship to the skill the apprentices wish to learn. The apprentices get to prepare the clay or the paints for the teacher or restring the swarmandal or what have you. Gradually they begin to pick up the skill by watching the artisan at work and seeing how she does her thing.

Traditionally, this is how Zen monks worked with their apprentices. They didn’t teach them very much in any overt way. There was no seminary, no lessons. It was a process of assimilation. Some Zen monks still work this way. Both of my teachers do. When people ask me about my Zen training I don’t know quite what to say. I just sort of watched and picked up things.

I’ll give you an example. There is usually a statue of Buddha in the central room of most Zen temples. It’s traditional to stop and bow toward the statue whenever you pass in front of it on your way somewhere else. Nishijima Roshi never once told me to do this. But one day I happened to see him do it. That was how I learned of this tradition. That’s pretty much how I learned everything I ever learned from Nishijima. It’s not an easy way to learn. You have to be really observant. You have to really want to learn, for the sake of learning itself and not for any certification you might get in the future.

I had no idea at the time that I was mastering skills that would one day lead to receiving dharma transmission. I was just deeply interested in knowing how a Zen monk did stuff. Like someone who admires the way a master potter crafts a really good vase, I found something admirable in the way Nishijima Roshi had crafted his life. So I watched and I absorbed.

When people start thinking of Zen monks as members of clergy they seem to me to immediately start coming up with ways to destroy the very thing that makes Zen worthwhile. For example, I’ve heard a lot of cries that we need a monitoring organization for Zen monks — one “with teeth,” meaning it has some kind of power to bite anyone who gets out of line. To me that’s like saying we need a monitoring organization “with teeth” to judge what is and is not good art. It sounds scary and vaguely totalitarian to me.

If Zen monks start becoming beholden to some organization that tells them how to do what they do, they won’t be able to do much of anything beyond passing on ceremonies and ways to fold up their robes. They’ll only be able to do the things that some committee somewhere decides they can do. But that committee will always be far removed from the day-to-day work of actual monks in the field.

To me, the phrase “member of clergy” describes a participant in some organization. The person is a member of this thing called clergy. To me that means that he willingly submits to the oversight of an organization who guarantees that he will play by their rules lest they throw him out and thus make him a non-member.

Zen isn’t like that. There’s no Church of Zen to which its members pay dues and which vouches for their behavior. There are organizations like the Soto-shu that kinda sorta do something that’s maybe a little bit like that. But even they are more like very loose affiliations of likeminded artists than a Church (with a capital “c”). And that’s the way it has to be if Zen is to remain Zen.

Zen has to be just a little bit dangerous. If it’s not, it ceases to be Zen. The reason that Zen can go as deeply as it does into the question of what it means to be truly human comes in a large part because it’s not entirely safe. The safer, more rule-bound, more structured and organized it becomes, the shallower and less valuable it gets. Nobody gets hurt (supposedly) but nobody learns much of anything either.

I imagine my opinions on this matter will upset some people. But take heart! As far as I can see I am clearly on the losing end of this battle. It seems to me that those who want to establish a Church of Zen “with teeth,” are going to be the victors. That’s just the way stuff goes. What I’m saying here today will, in the future, be remembered (if at all) only as the ravings of someone who didn’t understand what the Church of Zen now knows to be true. You folks reading in the future can vouch for me on this one.

When that happens, real Zen will go underground and start calling itself something else. That’s also the way stuff goes.


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78 Responses

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  1. Andrew
    Andrew January 8, 2013 at 2:38 pm |

    brad, the real bowing to buddha is not censoring what shows you up 🙁

    you have no one but yourself to blame for being a fake !

    duh! it’s just a stupid statue 🙂

  2. RandomStu
    RandomStu January 8, 2013 at 3:22 pm |

    As a Zen practitioner, I spend lots of time looking at the big questions of life. Sometimes, I encounter friends or acquaintances or strangers who, usually motivated by suffering, are just beginning to face such questions. They’re wondering, “Is it OK to wonder about who I am and why I’m alive? Is it OK to question the goals in life that others tell me I should have, or that other people appear to have?” I can tell such people, “Yeah, go ahead. It’s OK to be honest about not knowing these things.” That’s something like how a clergyman functions. It’s different from being beholden to any organization.

    As far as wearing a costume, or using a title, or performing a ceremony… I’d do so, or refrain from doing so, based on whatever makes the other person more comfortable in facing those questions.

  3. Mumon
    Mumon January 8, 2013 at 3:23 pm |

    Some Zen folks are clergy but zazen is not a ceremony. But yeah, you’re an artisan.

    And what you wrote is spot-on as far as my experience is concerned.

    “I’ve heard a lot of cries that we need a monitoring organization for Zen monks — one “with teeth,” meaning it has some kind of power to bite anyone who gets out of line. To me that’s like saying we need a monitoring organization “with teeth” to judge what is and is not good art. It sounds scary and vaguely totalitarian to me.”

    For certain kinds of people who want “teachers” that “teach,” maybe that’s an answer.

    The best teachers are not teaching but through their entire way they comport themselves in this world. And you can’t authorize that via an organization anyway.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 8, 2013 at 4:14 pm |

    You’re getting better and better at explaining why you feel this way. Your position is beginning to make more sense (to me).

  5. Dorg
    Dorg January 8, 2013 at 4:48 pm |

    I want a Church Of Zen ™ lapel pin so when I meet fellow CoZ members we can give each other a smug look, knowing that our path has been sanitized for our protection.

  6. AManiglia
    AManiglia January 8, 2013 at 5:07 pm |

    Great post, Brad!

    I’ve been sitting for a few years and recently began sitting at a zendo. I joined without knowing that this zendo had recently gone through a large scandal, and as I conducted a cursory investigation, I came across several similar scandals throughout the country. These scandals seem to have involved sexual misconduct on the part of these clergymen.

    From the little that I’ve read, it appears as though clergymen abused their positions of “spiritual superiority.” While lecherous clergymen ought to raise a few eyebrows, my big question would be directed towards the victims, who felt, I suppose, pressured to consent by some pseudo-divine authority. Most victims would have had no questions about such advances had they taken place on the street or in a bar. The presence of a clergyman, however, blurred what would normally have been clear.

    I could never understand the complexities of this scenario and do not pass judgements on any of the involved parties. But I do think that these situations, and the resulting community outrage, provide some insights into the idea of hierarchy and clergy in American zen. Perhaps zen practitioners are placing clergymen on very high pedestals…giving them some undeserved powers that they can then choose to abuse. Maybe practitioners feel as though there is something that only these clergymen can help them attain…as though they hold dominion over some special spiritual wisdom that they might choose to bestow upon you.

    If that’s the case, then American zen is a lot like every other religion that the world has ever seen. I am very much a novice in the realm of Buddhism and sitting compared to probably all of the people who post comments here, but my perspective on this matter of clergy is exactly what you said in your piece. I understand zen as the practice of sitting still. In the zendo, I hope that someone will whack me with that bamboo stick if my posture starts to sag, and I hope to learn some much needed discipline from the experienced practitioners there… but in regards to seeking spiritual teachings from some “master” who is above me… I could have found that in Middle Ages.

  7. Pistil Pete
    Pistil Pete January 8, 2013 at 5:56 pm |

    Perhaps what’s at issue here is the “American” in American Zen.Fascism (with teeth) and Puritanism have for a long time had and continue to have a strong attraction for many in the U.S. We’d be fooling ourselves to think this couldn’t be the case in Zen as well.Many feel lost without hierarchy,never having imagined any other way…Like you say “Zen will go underground and start calling itself something else”.Maybe it’s already on that road….

  8. Kakuon
    Kakuon January 8, 2013 at 6:12 pm |

    I want to agree with this post so much! And do in spirit, but that’s because it seems to be more about punk rock than about zen. What Brad is laying out is the ideal I would love to see for the future of Zen, but I think we need to admit that’s not what it traditionally was. In trying to understand what exaclt practice is, I’ve been reading a lot about early Chan Buddhism in China lately – especially how the schools that Dogen encountered developed. Turns out the Chan Buddhism that became Zen was a state controlled official religious institution in China, with all of its major abbots and famous zen masters having been appointed and controlled to a large degree by the state for hundreds of years during the Tang and Song dynasty before Dogen arrived. The “true practice” he studied and brought back was no more underground or independent than Catholicism was to Europeans. The same goes for Japan, at least since the Meiji restoration (I haven’t done my homework for the interim period between Dogen and Meiji). Trying to square this understanding of how zen developed with my current practice has been quite the koan lately, as staring at a wall feels no less (or more) fruitful for knowing the practice’s non-subversive history.

    What Brad is advocating is a beautiful thing, and regardless of what the rest of the Zen world wants to do itself here in America, it would be a great tradition to start. A pure transmission, you know, outside the scriptures & institutions.

  9. Ted
    Ted January 8, 2013 at 6:31 pm |

    I think the answer to the question “are you a member of clergy” depends on who is asking. If someone is asking because they want to gauge how much a part of my life my practice is in some setting where I would like them to get an accurate read, I say yes. In pretty much any other circumstance, I say no, for the reasons you state. This came up recently in a poll I responded to from Faithful America.

    I loved your comment about how you learned to bow to the buddha image. I’ve noticed similar behavior at SFZC with respect to Suzuki-roshi’s shrine; I suspect people there learn the same way, but maybe that’s because although I’ve stayed there on a number of occasions, I’ve almost never had a conversation with anyone there. They seem to delight in leaving you to your own devices, which is kind of fun.

  10. AnneMH
    AnneMH January 8, 2013 at 7:12 pm |

    It is an interesting topic. There is another view as well. I know that women have in many traditions barred from being officially clergy. Sometimes that causes us to seek out official status and ordination even more than possibly males do. I found as I read the article that feeling twinging in me. I have spent years in independant Christian traditions that were also patriarchal. So I am used to having no status for my church or myself.

    However instead of finding that I want to fight for some status like I always thought I would, I find I am ready to let that go. Really totally. Which surprises me to be honest. I just would like some way to tell a total flake from someone kinda useful and honest. And ordination and supervisory boards and all that won’t tell us that anyway. I think it takes a lot of courage and honesty to realize that we can trust our practice and that we are not so cool for it no matter how great or how many years we have worked at it.

    I was thinking that there is a link to the punk attitude, never really belonging to a group or distrusting any group that would actually include us, haha.

  11. Johnny Tet
    Johnny Tet January 8, 2013 at 7:14 pm |

    Thank You, Brad.

    I practice in a “lay” sangha (as opposed to a sangha with resident monastics). We are a diverse group, but anchored in zazen. It is composed of some who would lean towards a CoZ future and some who would remain ‘off the reservation’. We have ties to other centers but are our own thing. The priest doesn’t think he is clergy, and the majority of members don’t consider him clergy. I like this mix for as long as it lasts. “Clergy” or “not-clergy” is one distinction.

    I’m interested in the differences between lay based sanghas and monastic based sanghas.

    I think independent lay based sanghas could survive a CoZ reformation.

  12. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote January 8, 2013 at 9:36 pm |

    I’ve read that the Chinese monasteries of the twelfth century were open to individuals of any faith, even if the abbots were government -appointed and primarily advocates of Ch’an.

    Reading Giko David Ruben over on Adam Tebbe’s enterprise, I found the following ascribed to Rev. Sasaki:

    “My hand just moves. It’s will-less (ishinashini).”

    There is action that takes place out of belief without any conscious exercise of will. This kind of action is similar to what happens when a subject under hypnosis is given a suggestion to act, except in the Zen master’s case the suggestion is coming from what she or he truly believes, not from any overt intention.

    Just as a hypnotist can make a person do something that is against their own moral convictions by disguising the nature of the action in the suggestion, so too a person with amazing selflessness can sometimes act in selfish ways because of what they have come to believe.

    The ability of some people to act in concert with past, present, and future is remarkable and can be felt, yet what such a person believes does result in action, and there is logic and reason along with intuition in what any person believes.

    The teaching of Gautama the Buddha is a mixture of superstition and the most amazingly accurate description of the heart of human experience ever put to words. He excused the order from following all but the three principal rules before he died; however, none of his followers knew exactly which three those were, so the monks still observe 270+ rules to this day. The teaching in words survived; the teaching outside of words survived, thanks to clergy I suppose!

  13. Jackagain
    Jackagain January 8, 2013 at 11:00 pm |

    It’s all about the practice, not the look or name. People don’t get that. Nothing wrong with the look or costume if the practice is right either — all is respected really if the fountain had its head screwed on right!

  14. Khru
    Khru January 9, 2013 at 12:35 am |

    So the sage serves with humility
    but does not lead.
    And everything follows
    it’s own natural course.

    Because the sage does not oppose,
    opposition is not provoked;
    Because the sage does not resist,
    resistance is not created.

    TTC 66

    1. chasrmartin
      chasrmartin January 10, 2013 at 2:35 pm |

      What Khru said.

      Or what Khru said the Old Boy said.


  15. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel January 9, 2013 at 4:42 am |

    I think you should know me enough to understand how much I do agree with that artisan statement, here.

    However, I always find it useful to get back to the etymologic fundamentals. Just as much as “priest” only means “elder” (which, I gather, is how the Mormons call their priests), from ancient Greek “presbyteros”, “ancient”, elder; so is clergy derived from “cleric” which itself comes from ecclesiastical latin cl?r?cus, itself from Ancient Greek klêrikos, “heirloom”.
    So, it’s always the same. Words are words, and sometimes, they describe different realities.

    Just as English “challenge” comes from latin “calumniare”, slander, through Norman French “challengier”. If you slander someone, that person is bound to ask you for excuses or for a fight. This is how a word for slander becomes an invitation to fight.

    Therefore, the better word for us would be “teacher” (in English) because that’s what we are supposed to be. It would be easier in French, since one can always say “maître d’apprentissage” (apprenticeship’s master), where the word master has only this teaching meaning, and not that of “owner” or “detentor of mastership” (or whatever).

    We always ought to remember the line : “The Buddha has said perfect appearances are not perfect appearances. Therefore they are called perfect appearances.” The catch being with “are called”…

  16. sri_barence
    sri_barence January 9, 2013 at 4:59 am |

    The three rules:
    1 Shut up
    2 Sit down
    3 Pay attention

    I belong to the Kwan-Um Zen organization. There is a formal hierarchy and I presume there are rules that the members are expected to follow. But the actual practice is lose and unstructured. No-one dictates posture or breathing method etc. The teachers do not claim any special authority. For the most part, we are left to learn things for ourselves. I think the teachers take the whole structure thing with a grain of salt.
    But there is a formal path to follow, if you want to have a certain kind of rank or title within the organization. For example, a “Dharma Teacher” has to take specific precepts and attend a certain number of retreats and so forth.
    This seems kind of goofy to me, but I also think it helps avoid people pretending to authority or experience that they do not have. A Dharma Teacher may lead practice but not give kong-an interviews, for instance.
    I think this kind of thing can be useful, provided it is not taken too seriously. I do not think Zen teachers are clergy, because that would imply they have a certain authority. That authority properly belongs to you and me, and we should not surrender it to others, no matter how wise they may appear to be.

  17. fightclubbuddha
    fightclubbuddha January 9, 2013 at 5:29 am |

    Are you sure you want to take this position? I mean, if you call yourself “clergy” you get free, up-close parking at hospitals and a 15% ecclesiastical discount at Denny’s.

  18. minkfoot
    minkfoot January 9, 2013 at 6:27 am |

    AManiglia sed:
    ‘In the zendo, I hope that someone will whack me with that bamboo stick if my posture starts to sag, and I hope to learn some much needed discipline from the experienced practitioners there… but in regards to seeking spiritual teachings from some “master” who is above me… I could have found that in Middle Ages.’

    Yes, you could have. Though what I mean is probably not quite what you meant.

    What are real “spiritual teachings”? When the guru lectures on the nature of mind, or when she forces you to deal with your disappointment in her?

    There were many masters in the Middle Ages, but they had a tendency to end up in jail. If they were lucky.

    We’re pretty lucky now, with communication the Net allows us and the availability of teachers to choose from. And teachers are lucky, too — very few get actually burned by the Church nowadays.

    But maybe we are too lucky. In the Middle Ages, you stuck with the master you could find, as you were not likely to find another, or so it seemed. The teachings are not what you expect, and if finding another teacher, one more to your liking, is too easy, you might forever avoid the real learning. Which might be found in doctrine, or the way you fold your robes, or dealing with a surprising demand.

  19. anon 108
    anon 108 January 9, 2013 at 8:10 am |

    “In the zendo, I hope that someone will whack me with that bamboo stick if my posture starts to sag, and I hope to learn some much needed discipline from the experienced practitioners there…”

    Hi AManiglia,

    Better, I think, is for you to notice when your posture starts to sag, or when you need to be disciplined, and for you to do whatever needs to be done – or undone. In the company of others and with their help, by all means.

  20. anon 108
    anon 108 January 9, 2013 at 8:19 am |

    …by “you” I mean me. Sorry about that.

  21. zucchinipants
    zucchinipants January 9, 2013 at 9:53 am |

    Your artisan/apprentice analogy is either flippant or naive. So, you learned to bow to Buddha by watching your teacher. If he made a bowel movement at 3:00pm everyday, would you follow his lead? After all, is that what being man of zen is about? Don’t question why you do these things — just follow what the teacher does?

    If you felt so strongly about not being called clergy, why did you wear the robes? I don’t buy the “gotta wear them sometime” line. If zen is to be dangerous, do something dangerous instead of blogging about it after the fact.

    Face it — you’ve embedded yourself in organizational/hierarchical zen while claiming not to be part of it and occasionally throwing stones at the rest of the organization. Zen hasn’t been “dangerous” for maybe 1200 years. If you truly want to do something dangerous, stop talking about zen and stop promoting yourself.

  22. SoF
    SoF January 9, 2013 at 12:51 pm |


    Japan is a different context than California.

    In Japan, Richard would NOT have been forced out of SFZC.

    Buddhism in Japan dates back to about 600 CE.

    California only dates back to 1849.

    Legally, Buddhism is a Religion. And religions have certain forms and ceremonies that are requirements of the legal definition.

    You need an altar, scriptures, and a liturgy.

    And, in California, you need an oversight board. You also need a corporation that owns your building.

    So, to conform to the CONTEXT of being a religion in California, ZC has resident clergy and visiting clergy.

    Remember: form is emptiness and emptiness is form.

    California republicans just “don’t get it.” Instead, they got “it.”

  23. RandomStu
    RandomStu January 9, 2013 at 1:34 pm |

    from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104257/quotes

    Kaffee: Corporal, would you turn to the page in this book that says where the mess hall is, please.

    Cpl. Barnes: Well, Lt. Kaffee, that’s not in the book, sir.

    Kaffee: You mean to say in all your time at Gitmo you’ve never had a meal?

    Cpl. Barnes: No, sir. Three squares a day, sir.

    Kaffee: I don’t understand. How did you know where the mess hall was if it’s not in this book?

    Cpl. Barnes: Well, I guess I just followed the crowd at chow time, sir.

  24. RandomStu
    RandomStu January 9, 2013 at 1:55 pm |

    It’s been shown that certain chimpanzees will stare at a photo of their group’s alpha male, and aren’t distracted even when food is presented as an alternative. (Cocaine will do the trick, though). We clearly have some deep biological stuff that orients us towards following leaders blindly. We’re evolving towards greater individuality, but evolution is damn slow.

    If pompous clergymen didn’t exist, we’d have to invent them… as long as there are seekers who insist on authoritarian leaders and pseudo-parents. Maybe it’s best to leave these seekers to suffer at the hands of egomaniacs, till they reach the point that they’re ready to try more self-reliant alternatives.

    Or maybe it’s OK to wear robes or some other costume, use a meaningless title, and put on a little act. Maybe that’d attract this kind of seeker, and the result will be more helpful than if they’d ended up following a teacher who believed in his own hype.

  25. boubi
    boubi January 9, 2013 at 3:30 pm |

    “There must be some way out of here” said the joker to the thief
    “There’s too much confusion”, I can’t get no relief
    Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
    None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.

    “No reason to get excited”, the thief he kindly spoke
    “There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
    But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate
    So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late”.

    All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
    While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.

    Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
    Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

  26. MasterGoodwrench
    MasterGoodwrench January 9, 2013 at 4:30 pm |

    Nice post, Brad.

    I consider myself a certified pope, so I get to decide who is clergy and who is not.

    As do you!

  27. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote January 9, 2013 at 9:19 pm |


    “In Japan, Richard would NOT have been forced out of SFZC.”

    So, to conform to the CONTEXT of being a religion in California, ZC has resident clergy and visiting clergy.”

    Intrestin’. I remember the co-abbot of Abayagiri talking about his teacher, who advised monks not to imagine themselves to be monks. Foolish to think of oneself as something.

    I guess the point I was making in my prior post was that even the most selfless individual acts on the basis of their beliefs. Looking at the man who founded the faith 2500 years ago, it’s clear that his beliefs about the social order of his day drove many of his actions, and some of his beliefs are no longer common in this day and age. The Zen centers in California have many capable teachers and supporters, but I’d like to ask: what do the teachers and supporters really believe, about the teachings of Gautama and the practice of zazen, and do they understand the relationship between what they believe and ishinashini (my new favorite word)?

  28. SoF
    SoF January 9, 2013 at 10:24 pm |

    Well, ishinashini aside, I suggest that almost EVERYTHING that happened at ZC was the will of Richard Baker. The Grocery Store, the Book Store, the Restaurant, the Bakery… (all staffed with near-slave labor).

    But I was the quintessential outsider – I worked in over-the-air Television the entire time. I could AFFORD to eat at Greens, buy bread at the bakery, and shop the over-priced bookstore.

    The “Kalama Sutta” is worth reading and re-reading.

    The key points are HERE

    “Friend Savittha, apart from faith, apart from liking, apart from what has been acquired by repeated hearing, apart from specious reasoning, and from a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over, I know this, I see this: ‘Decay and death are due to birth.'”
    Samyuttanikaya, Nidanavagga, Mahavagga, Sutta No. 8

    I return to Zazen by alone. The best way to insulate others from your will is to insulate yourself from others.

    Majjhima Nikaya is considered by Pali Buddhis scholars to have been the main collection of suttas that was used by the sangha from the time the collection was fully assembled until the beginning of the current era (+/-), for deepening the theoretical knowledge of the Dhamma among committed Buddhists.

    The rest is deserving of both skepticism and criticism…

  29. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon January 10, 2013 at 5:03 am |

    Zen monks are not clergy members? Next you’ll be saying that Buddhists don’t believe that Buddha is god and they don’t pray to him! Are there no limits to your heresy?

    1. chasrmartin
      chasrmartin January 10, 2013 at 2:39 pm |

      “Are there no limits to your heresy?”

      Golly, I hope not.

  30. Hungry Ghost
    Hungry Ghost January 10, 2013 at 7:44 am |

    I really like this. The word monk in reference to Zen (especially Japanese Zen) needs to just get thrown away. No vinaya, no celibacy or home leaving, accepting money, it’s just not monasticism it’s buddhist yoga in the old, complete sense of the term yoga. What you’re describing seems to me to have more in common structurally with Marpa and Milarepa than it does with Dogen but I don’t mean that as a criticism.

  31. hrtbeat7
    hrtbeat7 January 10, 2013 at 9:08 am |

    Who cares?

    “If you take the robe that a person is wearing to be the person’s true identity, then though endless aeons may pass, you will become proficient in robes only and will remain forever circling round in the threefold world, transmigrating in the realm of birth and death.”

    (Lin Chi)

  32. Fred
    Fred January 10, 2013 at 5:54 pm |

    Of course the robe is not the true identity. The surface is for the other monkeys
    to determine what role is being played in a game.

    To bad that the game is taken seriously by monkey brains. What is emptiness?

  33. Fred
    Fred January 10, 2013 at 6:01 pm |

    Emptiness is looking into the monkey brain and seeing the evolution of the

  34. ThichNhatHanhFan
    ThichNhatHanhFan January 10, 2013 at 9:15 pm |

    Nice post Brad

    I have been told in sutras etc that the Buddha, when asked about his teachings, in all the years the he was around, answered that he taught nothing at all.

    One of the best teachers I ever had was my Aikido teacher who also taught nothing (i.e. he simply did his stuff, no words, or adjustments, etc), and i in turn, for my part as “student”, simply turned up, put the tatami out, and attempted to copy a-la “monkey-see-monkey-do” and in those years i learned many many things

    Before others complain that this is following blindly (well yes sort of) there is a faith, which may be justified or not (no one is perfect), but the teaching is to be tested, just a s the Buddha taught.. a student should not take anything without testing it – and nowhere is that easier to test when you land on your but by misreading your martial arts teachers movements….

    The world is your teacher if you listen, and, as it is said in ancient India “When the student is ready, the teacher/master will appear ” (for me i believe ‘the master’ is always there, he/she only manifests as an object of the students perception once the student is no longer attempting to be a ‘Student” but simply in a deep state of awareness).

    “The master”/Avalokiteshvara /Buddha/your-own-true-self/call-it-what-you-will, will manifest and teach you, like-it-or-not, when you are in a state to see.
    Perhaps it is more likely that this will manifest as a person of deep practice with membership of some religious order, but that is not necessarily the case.

  35. Fred
    Fred January 11, 2013 at 3:17 am |

    Open to the universe by dropping the past self, sloughing the skin, costume,
    pupa shell of old habits, conditioned thought, and connecting the godhead
    inside and out.

  36. Fred
    Fred January 11, 2013 at 3:28 am |

    A man of no distinction leaves no trace.

    Emptiness walking forward through this brain and body without a footprint.

    Sasaki left a footprint with his penis.

  37. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote January 11, 2013 at 8:24 am |


    Morihei Ueshiba had an understanding that he taught, concerning the nature of Aikido. Your teacher may not have acknowledged it, but that doesn’t mean he was unaware of it, or didn’t believe in what Ueshiba taught.

    Gautama the Buddha left behind four collections of sermons, and the Vinaya or rules of the order. Historians attribute the recollection of many of these sermons to his companion, who is believed to have had a photographic memory for sound. Among other things, in the first volume of the Vinaya is a rule prohibiting vows of silence among the monks during retreat; there was a group of monks who decided to take such a vow, but Gautama declared such a vow to be selfish and short-sighted, as there are many who need to hear the teaching, and laid down a general prohibition.

    The legend about Kasyapa receiving transmission silently as Gautama held up a flower has its counterpart in the long sermon volumes, in the parinibbana sutra, where Kasyapa receives a mandava flower that bloomed out of season from a naked ascetic. The ascetic explains that the mandava trees bloomed after the Gautamid passed away. Kasyapa proceded to the pyre for Gautama, and after he paid his respects the villagers were finally able to light the pyre; no doubt Kasyapa received the robe and bowl there.

    Why would Zen lay so much emphasis on silence in retreat, and on the transmission of a teaching without words? I’m not saying silence isn’t useful, or that the teaching can be transmitted through scripture, but I am saying that Zen would not be here today without the man who prohibited silent retreats and whose two principal students spoke of the same experiences he did.

    Yes, a lot of people learn Aikido practice and Zen practice intuitively, but the beliefs are there and quite evolved, and these beliefs underlie the action. They do not give rise to willful action, but to action of the “ishinashini”. The Gautamid spoke plainly of his beliefs with regard to practice before and after enlightenment, and of the meditative states and their meaning; no one in the Zen community speaks of these things, and they frequently hide their lack of understanding behind the “sudden mind to mind transmission outside of scripture”. I’m not saying that transmission doesn’t exist, but as I read Yuanwu it would appear he considered mind to mind transmission to be within one and the same individual, not between two different individuals, and he also sought to teach with words, albeit with incomplete words.

    1. fightclubbuddha
      fightclubbuddha January 11, 2013 at 10:18 am |

      Mark, what, then, are we to make of the Lankavatara Sutra? Despite its length, it really only contains two main points. First, that all we think to be real is nothing but the perceptions of the mind, and, second, the knowledge of this fact is something which must be realized and experienced but cannot be expressed with words. The Lanka, along with the Flower Sermon, argue pretty forcefully for direct transmission and not for spoken teaching. However, both appear to fall within your statement that transmission is within one and the same individual. Thus, Dogen saying that the Dharma is properly transmitted to yourself???

      1. sri_barence
        sri_barence January 11, 2013 at 12:53 pm |

        “… the Dharma is properly transmitted to yourself…”

        Nice. Doubleplusgood!

  38. Steve
    Steve January 11, 2013 at 10:06 am |

    I always thought McCartney was more creative than Lennon. Lennon was always trying to break the rules. Let’s do a song where we just drone “Number 9” over and over. Hey Paul, I wrote this great song. Listen. She said I know what it’s like to be dead. What do you think? And Paul would always say, “yeah mate. except that’s not really a song is it?” And then he would try to mold it into an actual song. Even when Lennon would come to him with an entire coherent song, McCartney might say, “Hmm. I like what you’ve done here. How about we add “I’d love to turn you on.” right here? And BOOM! A ho nuvva level. Everyone goes nuts about Imagine. I always thought it was a really lame version of Let It Be.

    On the other hand, if McCartney didn’t have someone to kick him in the ass once and a while, he’d churn out one British musical oompa-loompa-oompa-loompa number after another. His late 70s and onward output essentially. (We shall not speak of Ebony & Ivory).

    I guess McCartney started with the rules and tried to be creative within the rules of proper songwriting by bending here, twisting there, and being clever everywhere. Lennon took a bomb to the rules and hoped they blew up in a way that you could dance to.

    What were we talking about?

  39. prooftheory
    prooftheory January 11, 2013 at 12:31 pm |

    Do you think that unpaid interns should have no protection from sexual harassment? An apprentice is essentially an unpaid intern, someone who is hired and their labor is paid for by giving them training. There doesn’t seem to be much legal protection for unpaid interns from getting sexually harassed but it doesn’t intuitively feel like that should be the case to me. It feels to me like there should be some “teeth” to protect the unpaid interns. I guess my point is that while the “apprentice/master” analogy may be a better one for the zen teacher/student relationship than clergy/layperson, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there shouldn’t be some outside enforcement of appropriate behavior.

    1. sri_barence
      sri_barence January 11, 2013 at 1:07 pm |

      I am not a lawyer, but I think that unpaid interns enjoy the same legal protections against harassment as paid employees, at least in my state. Also, I believe there are legal remedies for unwanted sexual contact, even when no employee/employer relationship exists. For example, you may not harass someone on the bus or in the street.
      What we are talking about here is more of an ethical or moral dilemma, I think.

  40. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote January 11, 2013 at 4:03 pm |

    @fightclubbuddha, I confess I’ve never gotten enough gratification out of the material after the Pali Canon to tempt me to read those sermons in full; it’s all philosophy to me, until we get to the literature of Chan. Or the literature of Taoism.

    You can see things with your mind all day long, and never get into your senses. You can “bite through here” and open up proprioception and equalibrioception that will brings you to your knees and cause you to tower up like a mile-high wall. There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done, nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be; it’s easy!

    “I know what it’s like to be dead”, Mr. J. Lennon wrote that about a trip he took with Peter Fonda, where Mr. Fonda said the aforementioned words.

  41. Fred
    Fred January 11, 2013 at 4:32 pm |

    “I’m not saying that transmission doesn’t exist, but as I read Yuanwu it would appear he considered mind to mind transmission to be within one and the same individual, not between two different individuals”

    “However, both appear to fall within your statement that transmission is within one and the same individual. Thus, Dogen saying that the Dharma is properly transmitted to yourself???”

    The Universe is actualizing itself, and you and I are just stuff that it is actualizing

    We are already enlightened, and the stuff that is undergoing enlightenment. So
    transmission is from the self to the self.

  42. SoF
    SoF January 11, 2013 at 6:06 pm |

    I think Richard’s fall was the result of MONEY and not sex. Sex was the excuse.

    In Japan, the temple IS the abbot’s house.

    In SF, City Center WAS Richard’s house until he moved next door. It wasn’t about the white BMW. It wasn’t about the ‘affairs’ during the time of ‘free love,’ ‘tune in,’ turn on,’ ‘drop out.’ As for the ‘drop out,’ the question was raised:

    “How many are staying to practice and how many are practicing to stay?”

    When Richard gave himself another $10K to cover his daughter’s college expenses (at Brown) then I think the whisper campaign turned into a mutiny. THAT was the proverbial straw…

    Anybody was free to leave at any time! Except many became attached to their own “careers” as transmitted Zen Masters. Status. Ego. Self. See the bottom picture HERE.

    I have more respect for Zen Hermitages. But this is MY bias and I see it clearly. Not like THIS ENTERPRISE, but a serious Hermitage of ONE.

  43. Pat
    Pat January 12, 2013 at 2:35 am |

    Greetings from the UK !

    I think this is the most important blog i’ve seen and decisions made on this issue will define ” Zen practice ” and could kill it at the same time.

    We are the eyes ,ears and experiencers of this wonderful universe, Zen and practises like it show us that – but they also show us how bound to being given permission to enjoy our birth right we are. There is no up or down – we are where we are. Religion, authority , and unrealistic rules of conduct (celibacy for instance) are dangerous bed fellows – just look at the current catholic Church.

    My yoga teacher is a real human being , with a mortgage, a dodgy hip and a busy schedule – the most important thing she has taught me is not how to French-plat my legs – but that real people can experience their lives differently. That sitting in silence is the kindest and sanest thing i can do for myself and for the other people in my life – but she has never said that to me. My teacher strives to give her pupils alternative ways to look at and cope with their life experience – but she requires of her pupils only one thing – to give her the same freedoms that she is striving to give us – who wouldn’t ?

    I wish you all well in making the choice – but have starred tunneling in

  44. Pat
    Pat January 12, 2013 at 2:49 am |

    Greetings from the UK !

    I think this is the most important blog i’ve seen and decisions made on this issue will define ” Zen practice ” and i agree with Brad, could kill it at the same time.

    My yoga teacher is a real human being , with a mortgage, a dodgy hip and a busy schedule – the most important thing she has taught me is not how to French-plat my legs – but that real people can experience their lives differently. That sitting in silence is the kindest and sanest thing i can do for myself and for the other people in my life – but she has never said that to me. My teacher strives to give her pupils alternative ways to look at and cope with their life experience – but she requires of her pupils only one thing – to give her the same freedoms that she is striving to give us – who wouldn’t ?

    We are the eyes ,ears and experiencers of this wonderful universe, Zen and practises like it show us that – but they also show us how bound to being given permission to enjoy our birth right we are. Most of us know instrinctively there is no up or down – we are where we are – we just need driving lessons from someone who knows the bumps and the sharp bends as they are now – not when they took their driving test eons ago.

    From a baptised member of the Catholic church – and a man in a loving relationship with another man – Religion, authority , and unrealistic rules of conduct for all practitioners (celibacy for instance) are dangerous bed fellows.

    I wish you all well in making the choice – but have started a tunnel – just in case.

  45. Zeke
    Zeke January 12, 2013 at 8:26 am |

    I like the idea of having Zen Artists and Zen Monks. Would it clear up some issues.

  46. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote January 12, 2013 at 9:00 am |

    re: the plaiting of the legs:

    “My First Full Lotus Experiences”, on Tao Bums.

  47. SoF
    SoF January 12, 2013 at 12:45 pm |

    Who wants “Shoes outside the door?” I’m finished with it. I’ll pay the “book rate” USPS only. (if you buy one at all, buy a used book).

    email me @ chas in ca [at] g mail [dot] com (with no spaces and appropriate punctuation) and tell me where to ship it.

    I know: “Where the sun don’t shine…”

  48. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel January 13, 2013 at 1:21 am |

    fightclubbuddha wrote:
    “The Lanka, along with the Flower Sermon, argue pretty forcefully for direct transmission and not for spoken teaching. ”

    I’m sorry I have to say that what the Lanka says is a bit more complex than what you seem to make of it.
    It does indeed mention the line about direct transmission outside of words and letters. But it also counterbalances this by mentioning that without scriptures and spoken teaching, nothing of it would have been transmitted. All in all, a really serious reading of that sutra speaks more along the line of “beware of scriptures, but do not reject them”, quite a lot like what Brad has constantly written in all those past years.

  49. Will
    Will January 13, 2013 at 4:18 am |

    Jizo is the only bodhisattva that wears monk robes as far as I know. Dogen said something like even if you’re a high ranking priest if a post preaches the Dharma to you bow to it three times. Likewise Buddha said “Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances.”. And there may have been official state priests in china but one of the prime ministers who was a lay person was also very held to be very a very accomplished practitioner. Also there was a guy who supposedly laughed and ran away whenever he met someone but left poems written on trees that showed a great depth of understanding.

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