Whenever I’ve seen Leslie James, the guiding teacher at Tassajara Zen monastery, give a talk she has started off by saying something like, “I’m just going to tell you about Zen according to Leslie. I don’t claim this is the official version,” or words to that effect.
I was thinking about this the other day and in one of those glorious d’uh moments, when you recognize something that ought to have been obvious for ages, I noticed that all of Zen is always like this. No matter who it is speaking about the practice, whether it’s the glorious Thich Naht Hanh or some guy in a Misfits t-shirt like me, or even if it’s the ancient and revered Masters like Dogen or Bodhidharma, all of them – all of us – are just giving our own individual idiosyncratic version of Zen.
We have some agreed upon parameters and established facts. Although even these can be called into question sometimes. Still, if you’re representing yourself as teaching about Zen, the audience has a right to expect you to address certain key elements that are well-established, like the Four Noble Truths, the traditional koans, the idea of non-self and so forth.
But all of us are giving our own take even when speaking about these things. There is no established orthodoxy in the Zen tradition. It’s actually a significant aspect of the tradition, that we do not have an orthodox interpretation that must be adhered to.
In religions wherein it is believed that there is a divinely revealed scripture given to us by some supernatural power, it is crucial to establish some kind of orthodoxy. This is why specialists like priests interpret these scriptures for the rest of us. The Zen tradition was established by people who did not trust this sort of thing. Some of the Protestant traditions were also established with this same idea in mind, and I’m sure there are variations of this idea present in other religions. Yet most religions have some kind of scriptural foundation. Maybe you don’t understand the Bible, but at least you’re supposed to believe it’s infallible. (I’m aware that there are Christians who don’t believe the Bible is infallible, but most Christians do.)
In the Zen tradition we don’t even have that. All of our scriptures, it’s understood, were written by human beings. Moreover, these human beings did not receive whatever wisdom they handed down to us from any kind of supernatural, infallible being or power. They just presented us with their honest interpretation of their own real experience.
I don’t know if other people who speak and write about Zen get criticized for being unorthodox as often as I do. Maybe everybody in this business gets it. But it’s a completely irrelevant criticism. And, in fact, I’m actually fairly orthodox. Or, since I just said there is no orthodoxy, let’s just say I’m fairly standard in my interpretation of Zen if you go by most of what comes out of the Soto tradition.
The confusion about this aspect of Zen is understandable. We’ve been told Buddhism is a religion and that Zen is a form of Buddhism. We understand that religions always have orthodoxies. But in this particular case, to call a Zen teacher unorthodox is kind of like saying that they are orthodox. That’s not a koan. The orthodoxy of Zen, if there is one, is to be unorthodox.
The problem with orthodoxy is that it’s always superficial. If I say I believe in the Four Noble Truths and you say you believe in the Four Noble Truths, that does not necessarily mean we agree. Our interpretation of the Four Noble Truths might be wildly different. This goes for pretty much anything we might agree upon. It applies to any religion or, indeed, to any other branch of human learning and inquiry. Even science works like this to some extent.
Orthodoxy is related to certainty. We humans spend lots of our energy searching for certainty. We like certainty because it makes us feel secure. On some level, there are things we can be reasonably certain about. I have to do my laundry today. Last I looked, there was a laundromat on the corner of Sunset and Parkman, about a block away from where I live. In a little while, I will take my laundry basket out of the closet and walk up there with it, reasonably secure in the knowledge that the laundromat will still be there when I arrive. If it’s not there, I’ll have a problem.
In matters of religion we’re seeking a similar kind of certainty but in a very different area. Religions try to sell you on the idea that if you do the right things you’ll go to heaven after you die, or get some other reward like a better reincarnation. There is no way to verify this, so you have to take it on faith. I have never found this idea worth even considering very deeply. It’s dumb.
Anyway, if a religion says you’ll go to heaven or wherever after you die if you do the right things, you want to be sure that the person telling you this is telling you the correct stuff to do. You want that person to be orthodox or you might end up doing the wrong stuff and never getting into heaven!
When it comes to meditation, people want to be certain that the practice will have some positive results. You wouldn’t want to devote a lot of time to sitting still and staring at your bedroom wall if it wasn’t good for something. That would be stupid.
These days it’s become pretty trendy to minimize the claims made for meditation. Dan Harris is making more money on his book 10% Happier per hour than I will ever see in my life. I haven’t actually read the book myself, but the title pretty much lays it out for you. Meditation can make you 10% better than you were before. Don’t talk about Enlightenment or magical powers. Just focus on what we can actually know.
I like that approach. It’s much more reasonable and workable than the approach the folks at TMâ„¢ (Transcendental Meditation) took a few years ago when they claimed it gave people the ability to levitate. Turns out they were just bouncing on beds.
I can’t offer any certainty or orthodoxy. I don’t know enough of the Buddhist buzzwords to sound orthodox. However, I can tell you about what things have been like for me doing this Zen stuff for more than thirty years. I am confident that I am not much different from anyone else, so I think it’s reasonable to conclude that the same sorts of things will happen to anyone else who engages deeply with Zen practice.
I also don’t hold myself up as an example of a superior kind of human. I’ve never been impressed with any of the many people who make those kinds of claims. I also wouldn’t want to encourage anyone to try to be just like me. It isn’t going to work anyhow.
So I suppose the question is; Why are there Zen teachers at all? In the Quaker tradition there are no priests or any kind of religious officiants. Why not do it that way?
If you want my answer, I think it’s because we recognize that certain people actually do have a better grasp on this Zen stuff than others. Just like some people are better guitarists than others. We understand that we can learn from these folks. So a long time ago somebody set up a system of formally recognizing those who were exceptional in their understanding. It’s not a foolproof system, but it seems to work more often than it fails.
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You had me right up to the last paragraph. I especially liked the story about Leslie James. But. But, although I cannot think of a better way to protect the lineage, I don’t necessarily see a link between deep understanding and formal recognition. I do see a link between the formal recognition and committment to the lineage and teaching and maybe that’s good enough. Cheers.
Hey man, as far as traditional teachers go, what Brad is saying here is pretty cool, eh? Yeah he’s a priest, which makes him a bit of a loony be default, but come on! He’s really trying to leave things open to personal interpretation, and that’s probably the most zen thing a teacher can do.
I used to work for a Tibetan Buddhist community, and although they got the sweet demons and the wicked art and colors, there sure isn’t much room for personal interpretation, it’s almost like Buddhist Catholicism, complete with exorcisms and rosary spells that have specific definitions to everything.
This post by Brad seems to be allowing room for personal testing and interpretation, which I like. That’s how my zen is, I just break all the rules and steal what I want 😉
Maybe I am in too good of a mood today. . .
Don’t believe anything just because I said it. ~Buddha
Everyone’s got to believe in something,
I believe I’ll have another drink. ~W.C Fields
Then the meaning system would actually be meaningful. ~Zafu
Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart. ~Anne Frank
Don’t believe everything a racist asshole who calls ethnic minorities, such as Persians, who disagree with him “mongrel”.
Don’t believe someone who can’t speak as an independent individual.
Despite everything I believe the puppets have the potential to cut the strings but rarely do because they are unoriginal and dull at heart.
Does this mean that you don’t want to partner with me and solve the hard problem of consciousness?
By the way, mongrel rhymes with mongol, not Persian…you need to learn to how to read.
A common racist remark towards Persians is that they’re “mongrelized” from Arabic and Turko-Mongol invasions. First off, this doesn’t matter. Second off, my father and mom are more from the north, so I have more Caucasoid features (e.g., Google “Iranid” – my phenotypes resemble theirs with light pigmentation of skin). The fact you even called me a mongrel makes me think there’s more to you than you’re revealing… You’re not really upfront about what you are implying.
And Sadegh Hedayat already solved the Hard Problem of Consciousness . Read the “Blind Owl”. It’s very Ligottian / Lynchian / Lovecraftian and depressing.
“Am I a being separate from the rest of creation? I do not know. But when I looked into the mirror a moment ago I did not recognize myself. No, the old ‘I’ has died and rotted away, but no barrier, no gulf exists between it and the new one.”
– Sadegh Hedayat
I think the Naveed Noori translation is best though. Walk a bit in those dark catacombs and the answer will come to you in despair.
“The fact you even called me a mongrel makes me think there’s more to you than you’re revealing… You’re not really upfront about what you are implying. ”
You need to learn how to read what people actually write rather than reading what you want to think.
How’s the StormFront posting going?
Didn’t you read the part where people said I was posting there because I wanted to argue race is a social construct?
It is a social construct.
The point I’m trying to make to you is neither you nor I real. You’re just babbling to yourself, as I am. It’s all a dream that leads nowhere. The abyss is there to those who are strong enough to wake up.
When you smile at the abyss, it smiles back at you. Laugh, when you fall in, realizing the abyss is in you.
minkfoot, you sound like a little boy.
Thanks much, Unca Sam
An excellent post, Brad! It was a good read, and your thesis here, as far as how I read it, is why zen is still a part of me and also why I still say Brad Warner is a good read as far as zen people go. Cheers!
However, like km above, you lost me on that last paragraph. I agree some people do have a better grasp, of course that’s true, but the formal system of recognition, as far as my life and encounters go, has been pure malarky. I’ve been around a lot of it over the years in several countries, and it’s mainly freaking hogwash!
To be fair though, I am not a Soto man and I have yet to check out your talks or your Dogen Sangha, maybe it’s pretty cool. ( I still think you need a motorcycles and Suicide Girls to have a truly Hardcore Zen center, btw).
You said that you weren’t a Buddhist. Last I checked Zen was a part of Buddhism.
Maybe that was last week.
A few people posting here said they weren’t Buddhists, but maybe with the orthodox unorthodoxy, they’ll change their self-referencing.
I am not Buddhist, Fred, you’re right. But as I have shared in the past (not that anyone cares), I grew up around Chan. I often joke to friends it was child abuse ha!
As I have shared many times on here, as I grew up around it, it’s part of my lexicon to communicate spiritual things to others and to myself in zen language. I think this is a common human experience. For example, many Westerners who are not Christian will still use Christian concepts in their mental dialogues and communication with others, even something silly like “you only live once”, or believing that man as dominion over nature, could be seen as a part of greater biblical cultural programing.
I acknowledge that in myself with Chan, and I personally have found, after having Chan teachers in the past, that religion is actually in the way of what Zen is really aiming at, but that’s my interpretation of zen. For Brad, maybe zen is a group of people that support a community, for me, I don’t care about that, I am interested in well. . . my own Bodhi Tree, and helping people around me.
I have found the language of zen to work, probably more because I am saturated with it than anything else.
Any Zen master or Buddhist that thinks that Zen practice is only for religious people don’t understand Zen practice and I will talk to any transmitted master about that any day with confidence in my experience of life.
Fred, I’ve yet to see a real voice of experience come from you. It’s all quotes and tantrums, which is probably why you are religious.
I’m over you dude. I’d make peace if you were interested, but after seeing you attack that dude Gniz, I am guessing you get off on drama.
That last bit was rather harsh on you, Fred. I mean you no harm. You surely know more than I do. I claim to be a lot of things, but never not a foolish human. Peace, man.
Peace to everyone here, especially Gniz.
That was an good read, Warner-san.
TM(tm) seems like a bit of a money-making racket to me. But that yogic flying trick is awesome. What a way to start the day, frog-hopping round the bed for twenty minutes… boing… boing… boooooooing!
I DEDICATE THIS AWESOME VIDEO TO ZAFU, OUR FEARLESS WARRIOR OF HARDCORE ZEN.
“If you want my answer, I think it’s because we recognize that certain people actually do have a better grasp on this Zen stuff than others. Just like some people are better guitarists than others. We understand that we can learn from these folks. So a long time ago somebody set up a system of formally recognizing those who were exceptional in their understanding. It’s not a foolproof system, but it seems to work more often than it fails.”
I know you have some concerns connected with your committment to becoming the teacher in residence at a zendo in L.A.
I liked that recollection about Shunryu Suzuki saying that someone at a sesshin just ended had attained enlightenment, but they didn’t know it yet. Now there’s exceptional understanding. Most Soto teachers seem to be like that, to me (meaning the emphasis is on something that might be there without any conscious awareness or direction).
Maybe someday I’ll sit a whole day in happiness, some day. Hasn’t happened yet. Good luck to you, Brad.
“Am I a being separate from the rest of creation? I do not know. But when I looked into the mirror a moment ago I did not recognize myself. No, the old ‘I’ has died and rotted away, but no barrier, no gulf exists between it and the new one.”
— Sadegh Hedayat
Here’s a Persian ditty that many here could profit by:
Rumi got nothin’ on dis:
great art, Alan, I know you suffered for it!
Holy smokes, Alan, those videos are freaking amazing!
Sailer – You are being followed.
The Turko-Mongels want your secrets
Warner – I liked the post.
“I liked that recollection about Shunryu Suzuki saying that someone at a sesshin just ended had attained enlightenment, but they didn’t know it yet.”
Isn’t that the guy who’s wife said that he never attained enlightenment. It must be an inside joke.
Christianity says you can gain admittance to the kingdom of heaven by engaging in certain behaviors (and avoiding others). Buddhism says you can achieve enlightenment and a favorable reincarnation by engaging in certain behaviors (and avoiding others. And I know not all Buddhists make that claim but I’m leaving Zen off the table for now). The TM people say you can learn to levitate by engaging in certain behaviors (what exactly, I don’t know, but presumably something associated with “mediation”. Hence the “M”. Right.) Sam Harris says you can become “10% Happier” by engaging in certain behaviors (mediation again, but minus the religious trappings Harris finds so offensive).
Okay, so what do these four things have in common? Each promises some desirable end in exchange for sticking with a particular program, a promise which in all four cases must be taken on faith. Judging from this post, Brad considers Mr. Harris’s program the most sensible of these options because it “focus[es] on what we can actually know.” And this is what’s confusing me. Because to my mind a person who decides to go with Mr. Harris’s program can be no more certain it will deliver on his promise than a Christian can be certain of the existence of heaven. That is, until the goal of 10% Happiness is actually won. How do they know Sam isn’t lying? How do they know what works for him is going to work for everybody?
The issue this raises, for me, is why people follow a particular spiritual path in a time and place where they have almost absolute freedom in the matter. By which I mean the United States in the early 21st century… well, not absolute freedom maybe, but let’s say far more freedom than in other times and places. If one chooses a certain path because it’s strikes one as “reasonable and workable” – what does that actually mean? First of all, I think it means plausible. Brad believes that “10% Happier” is something that a person might actually achieve, whereas levitation is not. So again, it’s a question on faith. But I think it might also mean “desirable” (and given some Christian’s concept of heaven, I would not fault anyone for that. The same goes for some Buddhist’s descriptions of enlightenment).
So what’s the problem? If a person wants to chase the dream of being a marginally happier person as opposed to the dream of immortality who am I to tell them no? Well, I don’t actually, but I would not personally classify such a goal as spiritual. Because it focuses on personal satisfaction. Or to put it another way, self satisfaction. The key word being “self”. To my mind, spirituality by definition encourages a certain denial of the self. Not in that it completely negates individuality, but in that it presses people to work against the natural impulse to place their own desires, fantasies, emotions, personality, possessions, opinions, ect. at the center of the universe. I had a completely secular upbringing that implicitly promoted that approach to life in general. And it’s precisely the sort of thing I’ve been trying to get away from since I was in my mid 20s and became interested in spirituality in a way that was more than academic.
I don’t want to say that I have no desire to increase my own happiness. That would be a big fat lie. But I don’t associate that desire with spirituality or turn to spirituality in order to fill that hunger. (And yet part of the reason that I first flew from the secular, self-centered approach to living was because it was making me miserable. So yeah, there’s a paradox there and something disturbingly close to hypocrisy)
I haven’t read Sam Harris’s book either… and maybe this would be a good place to mention I really, really don’t like that cat. So if I’ve misapprehended what he’s advancing in that particular publication according to my own bias, those who are more familiar with his work may correct me. But if I am in the right ballpark, it seems to me it should be shelved in the “self-improvement” section next to the dieting books and Make A Million Dollar Overnight and that kind of thing. Cause really, they’re all advancing the same thing aren’t they?
The other thing I just want to briefly touch on is this statement: “I’m aware that there are Christians who don’t believe the Bible is infallible, but most Christians do”. I wonder where Brad gets that idea, because I’m not sure that’s true. Christians who adhere to that doctrine do like to create the impression that they are the most numerous. But from my own experience with Christians, I suspect, in reality, they are just making the most noise.
Another way too long post which I hope was at least marginally comprehensible. Forgive me, it’s still early.
Forgive me, it’s still early.
That would be Dan Harris, the ABC-TV anchor, who wrote “10% Happier”.
Sam Harris, the erstwhile atheist and neuroscientist wrote “Waking Up”. He recommends meditation also and has an extensive background with Buddhist meditation (Theravadin and Dzogchen).
I saw a Youtube clip of the Harrises with Sam ostensibly interviewing Dan, but Sam did most of the talking, as his is wont.
I did read Waking Up, which I recommend, though I found the chapter on neuroscience kind of boring. Haven’t read 10% Happier yet, though I intend to.
Ah yes, I knew something was off… and the embarrassing thing is I’ve made that mistake before. Thanks for the heads up, and your patience.
re: “I’m aware that there are Christians who don’t believe the Bible is infallible, but most Christians do”
Yeah, that’s statement doesn’t bear up without some qualification, I’d say. Catholicism and Anglicanism, which together outnumber all the other Christian sects, both openly recognise these days that chunks of the bible are open to flexible interpretation, and are at best metaphorical. And a lot of Eastern Orthodox groups have a similar view. Really, it’s just a minority of Protestant groups who still hold the Bible to be infallible revelation in a literal way – they replaced authority of priests with authority of scripture, and they’re wedded to that view.
Saying that, I don’t think there are many Christians who think the Bible is utter bunk. The majority probably think it’s reliable overall.
Hi Shade. You wrote:
“If a person wants to chase the dream of being a marginally happier person as opposed to the dream of immortality who am I to tell them no? Well, I don’t actually, but I would not personally classify such a goal as spiritual. Because it focuses on personal satisfaction. Or to put it another way, self satisfaction. The key word being “self”. To my mind, spirituality by definition encourages a certain denial of the self. Not in that it completely negates individuality, but in that it presses people to work against the natural impulse to place their own desires, fantasies, emotions, personality, possessions, opinions, ect. at the center of the universe.”
Yes, the starting point is your self. The best place to start, I reckon.
The happiness I hear Sam Harris, the Buddhists and some others talking about is a happiness that’s the result of being satisfied with little; that enables the self to be content with what it is and with what’s happening here and now. It’s the desire always to be somewhere or someone else – or have them be like you – that causes most of the trouble in this world, for self and for others.
Zazen/meditation can get you much closer to that place. I think that’s both a desirable aim and that has a knock-on effect. If more of us are content with what we have and are not threatened by other people, everybody wins.
– A perspective which has got Buddhism accused of being a justification for doing nothing, letting the poor starve. But that doesn’t follow. We still have to do stuff in this world and not being driven by the desire to have more, to always be somewhere else, is likely to reduce the chances of our baser desires being pursued at others’ expense.
So the kind of ‘wanting to be happier’ that recognises the most effective way is to be content with little isn’t a bad kind of wanting, and should make things better for everybody.
Hmm. Needs a bit of trimming, that. But I desired it to be somewhere else – on Brad’s blog for everyone to see asap. Patience is a virtue, one that’s got its very own Sanskrit word. They say you can better at it from just sitting. It’s true. I used to be a lot worse.
“Forgive me, it’s still early.
That would be Dan Harris, the ABC-TV anchor, who wrote “10% Happier”.
Sam Harris, the erstwhile atheist and neuroscientist wrote “Waking Up”. He recommends meditation also and has an extensive background with Buddhist meditation (Theravadin and Dzogchen).”
It’s Ok, you could substitute one for the other, and it wouldn’t make any difference.
It’s Ok, you could substitute one for the other, and it wouldn’t make any difference.
You’re right! I just substituted you for Gniz, Samsaric Helicoid and Zafu
and it didn’t make any difference.
Thanks, man, I’m honored
I can easily tell the difference because I have a highly dualistic view of the universe.
So I will accept no substitutes.
Yes, okay that mistake renders a good portion of my very wordy comment incomprehensible after all. But not altogether, maybe. Because I know why I keep mixing those two up, other than the obvious superficial reason. What they have in common is that both advance an ostensibly spiritual technique – meditation – for a material or secular end (actually, the word I really want to use is worldly). In the Dan’s case, in order to become happier and healthier, in Sam’s, in order to become smarter. At which point, the whole endeavor can no longer be classified as spiritual, in my book (Figuratively. I haven’t actually written a book yet.)
And yet both insist on defining it that way, as “spirituality”. Right? Is this a more accurate assessment or am I just digging my hole even deeper?
I haven’t read any of Sam Harris’s books but I’ve watched quite a few videos on You Tube (includig one debate with Dan).
I don’t think it’s accurate to say Sam’s meditation is about ‘becoming smarter,’ as in getting better at maths. Sam’s big thing is ‘seeing through the illusion of the self’. If that’s spiritual – and plenty of people will say it is – then Sam’s purpose is spiritual. Me, I don’t like the word. Sounds too much like ghosts. But I know he uses it.
The only Sam Harris book that I have read is the latest “Waking Up”. It was interesting to read and I don’t think that he is saying anything that is really bad.
I was bothered by the tone of “do this to get here”. In other words he seems to be very intensely goal oriented.
I think having goals in meditation is good, they are an important source of motivation. I also believe that at some point in the meditative path, goals will become the catalyst for of a lot of frustration.
I stick up for Sam Harris, some of the time, because of the flak he gets from ‘Buddhists’ – usually for stealing Buddhism and not paying royalties (not true. He often references Buddhism, particularly vipassana, as having got there first).
You may have a point. I’d have to read the book to see if I agree with you, and I don’t plan on doing that.
I don’t think it’s accurate to say Sam’s meditation is about ‘becoming smarter,’ as in getting better at maths. Sam’s big thing is ‘seeing through the illusion of the self’. If that’s spiritual — and plenty of people will say it is — then Sam’s purpose is spiritual. Me, I don’t like the word. Sounds too much like ghosts. But I know he uses it.
Yes, Sam makes a big distinction between “spiritual” and “religious”. Maybe you could just call it “becoming fully human” ultimately, but you’ve got to call it something and of course first you have to define terms. He’s been noted as a leading exponent of the “new atheist movement” (along with Dawkins and Hitchens) but is the only one of the 3 who actually has meditation experience, which is central to his theses. Hitchens was quite sharply opinionated about religion and Dawkins is a “pure atheist/scientist”. Harris tries to use neuroscience as an explanatory platform somewhat, but he winds up criticizing narrow-minded scientists (like his buddy Dawkins) and also ends up confessing to the “irreducibility” of the mind when it comes to explaining consciousness. A scientist who knows that science has its limits and a meditator who knows better through experience.
Yes, an ego is doing a meditative technique so that it can become a better or happier ego while functioning in duality.
Sam the Sham and Dan the Man
Then a guy comes out in a sheep costume and sells you some meaning for your duality.
Sam Harris: The Self is an Illusion (short. 6 mins 52 secs).
Buddhists and other spritual practitioners are recommended to play from 2.51.
The real, vigorous examination of the truth of the matter is that Sam might say that self is an illusion, but he is still operating in a dualistic manner.
I was doing Vipissana when Sam was 2 years old, and there are effects from observing yourself from the Witness, but that witness exists in duality. Dropping the self outside of a spiritual context – how many normal people can handle that without a trip to the psych ward.
All of them? Sam’s selling a technology, without a support system.
“To my mind, spirituality by definition encourages a certain denial of the self. Not in that it completely negates individuality, but in that it presses people to work against the natural impulse to place their own desires, fantasies, emotions, personality, possessions, opinions, ect. at the center of the universe. I had a completely secular upbringing that implicitly promoted that approach to life in general. And it’s precisely the sort of thing I’ve been trying to get away from since I was in my mid 20s and became interested in spirituality in a way that was more than academic.”
Actually, to me the teaching is about action out of the occurrence of consciousness with respect to all the senses, including the vestibular, proprioceptive, and otolithic senses (folks here are mostly familiar with these words due to my extensive past usage, but you can get the overview in my writing entitled Fuxi’s Poem). No exercise of will necessary to move the body parts; unnerving and completely natural.
That would be why, IMO, Shunryu Suzuki said “Don’t ever think that you can sit zazen! That’s a big mistake! Zazen sits zazen!”.
The trick here is the relaxation that ensues as the otolithic sense combines with the proprioceptive and vestibular senses. Can we exercise these senses independently? Yes, and I find that helpful, along with a description of the way the movement of breath becomes the stretch and activity of the entire body and the knowledge and freedom of mind.
As Kobun put it, shikantaza is “the place and things”. He mentioned that people on the other side of the wall also sit when I sit (but they don’t take the posture). What that means is that what lies outside the boundary of the senses can also generate some kind of consciousness, a sub-conscious consciousness (?) perhaps, that becomes action. That is why Gautama described the induction of the first three non-material meditative states as the excellence of the heart’s release through the extension of the mind of compassion, of sympathetic joy, and of equanimity throughout the four quarters of the world, above and below; it’s not an exercise in spirituality, it’s out of necessity in “the actualization of the fundamental point” (as Dogen put it) that sits and walks and talks.
I confess, I practice because of inner happiness, but the story from the middle length sayings of the Pali Canon is that this is the path. I’m sure any sensible person would not have read the 500 comments on the last thread past about 3, so I’ll requote the passages I quoted there:
“…But I, by this severe austerity, do not reach states of further-men, the excellent knowledge and vision befitting the ariyans. Could there be another way to awakening?
This, Aggivessana, occurred to me: ‘I know that while my father, the Sakyan, was ploughing and I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, aloof from pleasures of the senses, aloof from unskilled states of mind, entering on the first meditation, which is accompanied by initial thought and discursive thought, is born of aloofness, and is rapturous and joyful, and while abiding therein, I thought: “Now could this be a way to awakening?”‘ Then, following on my mindfulness, Aggivessana, there was the consciousness: This is itself the Way to awakening. This occurred to me, Aggivessana: ‘Now, am I afraid of that happiness which is happiness apart from the sense-pleasures, apart from unskilled states of mind?’ This occurred to me, Aggivessana: ‘I am not afraid of that happiness which is happiness apart from sense-pleasures, apart from unskilled states of mind.’”
(MN I 246-247, Pali Text Society MN I pg 301).
‘”…What do you think about this, reverend Jain: Is King Seniya Bimbisara of Magadha, without moving his body, without uttering a word, able to stay experiencing nothing but happiness for seven nights and days?”
“No, your reverence.”
“What do you think about this, reverend Jain: Is King Seniya Bimbisara of Magadha, without moving his body, without uttering a word, able to stay experiencing nothing but happiness for six nights and days, for five, for four, for three, for two nights and days, for one night and day?”
“No, your reverence.”
“But I, reverend Jain, am able, without moving my body, without uttering a word, to stay experiencing nothing but happiness for one night and day. I, reverend Jain, am able, without moving my body, without uttering a word, to stay experiencing nothing but happiness for two nights and days,, for three, four, five, six, for seven nights and days.”‘
(MN I 94, Pali Text Society MN I pg 123-124)
So? Shinzen is saying the ultimate difference between Zen and Vipassana is a matter of style only. That the “Zen” style of enlightenment is more spontaneous and “bouncy” and Vipassana is drier and more methodical.
He did study with Joshu the Groper (as well as Burmese Vipassana teachers earlier) but teaches his own scientifically-oriented form of Vipassana. So it sounds like he “appreciates” Zen, but prefers V.
I’m not sure what conclusions to draw from this, if any…
Fred wrote: “Sam might say that self is an illusion, but he is still operating in a dualistic manner.”
We all operate in a dualistic manner. Even you, Fred. The point is to be aware of the fact.
“Dropping the self outside of a spiritual context — how many normal people can handle that without a trip to the psych ward. All of them?
I don’t know. I’ve not done the research. I am aware of a few spiritually-contextualised self-droppers who’ve lost the plot, though. One was a good old school friend of mine. Shock therapy sorted him out.
“Sam’s selling a technology, without a support system.”
Maybe. It might suit some people.
Does Sam have a 1-800 number for those losing their marbles while following his techniques:
“Tendencies to “dissociate” — that is, blank out, space out, leave one’s body, etc. — in stressful or upsetting situations. These are not uncommon experiences among those with histories of severe child abuse, and can become automatic and habitual. Originally self-protective in otherwise inescapable situations, dissociation can later cause many problems. For beginning meditators with abuse histories, dissociative states are sometimes confused with mindfulness. Learning “grounding techniques” and other emotion-regulation skills will probably be necessary first steps toward cultivating mindfulness.
Tendencies to get “lost in your own world” and withdraw from relating to others, or to not even bother trying to connect with others. In this case, mindfulness practices could possibly be “co-opted” by strong habits of self-absorption and disconnection from others.”
“This is why specialists like priests interpret these scriptures for the rest of us. The Zen tradition was established by people who did not trust this sort of thing”
actually…this is why I follow the church of Brad Warner…seriously, I read it – Greek – you interpret it for me – life changing.
“Dogen Zenji said, ‘If you cannot find a true teacher, it is better not to practice.’ Who or what is a true teacher, then? If we mull it over in our heads and decide that so-and-so must be a true teacher, we’re making a big mistake. We’re only trusting our misguided thought that a certain person is a true teacher.
Zazen, which is letting go and opening the hand of thought, is the only true teacher. This is an important point. I have never said to my disciples that I am a true teacher. From the beginning I have said that the zazen each of us practices is the only true teacher.
Since Sawaki Roshi passed away, I have been giving teisho, dharma lectures, to my disciples. But this is just my role. I’ve never said that I am a true teacher or that I am always right. Whether you think I am a true teacher or not is only your opinion. A true teacher is just not that sort of thing – the zazen of opening the had of thought is, for each of us, the true teacher.” – Kosho Uchiyama, Opening The Hand of Thought: Approach to Zen, pg. 163-164
*edit: “hand of thought” not “had of thought” in last sentence.
The real, vigorous examination of the truth of the matter leads to the *belief* that your opinion of a true teacher has some validity.
Of course ” opening the hand of thought ” requires greater explanation.
“Buddhism, and Zen in particular, can take deep root in the West, according to Uchiyama Roshi, only if it is stripped to the core. Here, he presents zazen as the fundamental practice that can help us charge up our lives to the force of reality. To Uchiyama Roshi, practice is the enlightenment of the Buddhadharma.
“The only true enlightenment is awareness of the vivid reality of life, moment by moment,” states Uchiyama Roshi. “So we practice enlightenment right now, right here–every moment.”
The only way to wake up and return to the “reality of life,” according to Uchiyama Roshi, is to sit zazen and practice the subtle action, or nonaction, that he refers to by the wonderfully graphic term, “opening the hand of thought.”
“Thinking means to be grasping or holding on to something with our brain’s conceptual ‘hand,”’ he states. “But if we open it, if we don’t conceive, what is in our hand falls away. Our true jiko–Self–also includes that which lets go.”
When the empty hand grasps the hoe handle, the hand of thought is open and the conceptual categorizer of reality drops away.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled program of trolling with the closed hand of thought.
Alright! Take me to the bridge, Dad.
Imagine doing zazen for 43 days, 14 50-minute periods a day; I guess that’s what they did when Sawaki died, at Antaiji. No wonder Uchiyama said he needed three shots of whisky at night to get the circulation back in his legs.
I’m drawn to zazen by the same happiness that tipped off Gautama that he had discovered “the Way”, when he was sitting under the rose-apple tree. Seems like it’s still a bit delicate for me, the experience of that happiness. I could sit all day, but in happiness, no, not yet.
I can’t imagine sitting that much. I sit pretty comfortably but after five or so 30 minute sits I’m starting to get kind of cranky.
I spent a few months several years back puzzling over what the difference is between joy and happiness. I decided, for myself at least, that happiness is overrated. It’s a transient state, highly dependent on circumstances. Joy, on the other hand, is sustainable. I believe that joy comes from understanding that “things as they are” is good enough.
The uptick of commentary in the last few posts occurred just as I returned to the North Country and a blowing wilderness of stinging ice and heavy snow. After digging out a hole in the snowbanks nearest my trailer, I found I misjudged where my drive through the hayfield actually was, promptly sinking to my rims in slippery snow, slush, and ice. My closest neighbor-friend with WiFi lives almost a mile down the road. With winds in excess of 30 mph, and temps ranging ten degrees either side of zero, Fahrenheit, I got just enough of an idea of the nature of the unusual ballooning of messagery in the comments, and elected to keep to my trailer with neither electricity nor Internet. The time gave me interesting observations about my impulse to correct others’ mistaken opinions. Was it worth arguing with trolls if I had to face a windchill of -30° for twenty minutes?
Well. it’s more spring-like now, and my car is free of its prison, and the librarians just love it when people use their WiFi. I need to let out a few opinions before they fester. Festering is bad, as a scientologist from whom I buy wholesale beads likes to say.
For me, Zen is a religion. It’s my core religion, the lens through which I see all my other spiritual endeavors. Some practitioners don’t like the idea of religion and say Zen isn’t one, and that’s alright. But to say it’s not is only possible if one defines religion in too narrow a way. Our bleating friend, Zafu, says the main function of religion is to provide meaning. It does that, indeed. Religion also comprises spiritual technology, as well as sundry psychological needs and even forms of investigating reality in ways formal philosophies such as science can’t do.
Our culture is biased towards thinking of religious questions in terms of “truth.” Is this or that religious claim an accurate depiction of how things really are? But every religion is a record of human attempt at contacting the deepest realities, and worth inspection not merely as a set of assertions, but as a vehicle of information not necessarily stated as doctrine.
Zen is especially heavy on the side of tech rather than doctrine. The Buddha essentially prescribed a recipe, an â„ž for liberation. Since much of the troublesome cast of mind for self-caused distress is due to believing counter-productive things, things that cause stuck loops of stress and unhappiness, it’s a religion with a high regard for disbelief.
Assessing things when I was a very young man, I noticed this about Zen. I read several books, and it seemed like it avoided making disprovable claims, while offering an â„ž for verification. Still, I was cautious when I went to my first Zen temple and met my first Zen teachers. This particular temple chanted the Shingyo before and after the sittings and Dharma talk in a typical service. Though we chanted in Sino-Japanese, the Asian words were translated word-for-word below, so I got a good idea of what the Sutra was saying. Part of what it was saying was a denial of the basic structure of Buddhist teaching: Four Noble Truths?– empty!; 12-fold Chain of Causation?– void!; No Attainment!; etc., etc. “Far out!” I thought, “A religion that denies itself!” What’s not to like? Concretely, I soon noticed that the second chanting was *always* better than the first. Must be something to this meditation, eh?
I was riding in a car with a fellow who a little later became a teacher with Boundless Way, and we were talking about former teachers. I mentioned my feelings of gratitude to old Matsuoka for giving me a touchstone by which to judge subsequent teachings for their conformity to “True Zen.” My friend eagerly interrupted to say that any teaching that was true to Zen somewhere or other acknowledged its own limitation and inability to precisely convey “truth.” I smiled and said, “That was what Matsuoka gave me.”
Like Suzuki-roshi’s happy linguistic accident: “The secret of Soto Zen is just two words: not always so.”
Everything is a fucking koan! Facile understanding is probably wrong. It often takes a good while to understand some teaching (and not just in Zen or Buddhism), and even then, there’s probably still depths unplumbed. Simpler is the â„ž. After decades of regular practice, preceded by decades of spottier application, I have found that what happens to my life is consistent with what the Buddha said would happen, though I didn’t really understand what to expect. I’ve learned to stop creating much of my self-caused suffering and diminish the force of pain and boredom and social humiliation. Inappropriate desires fade, and as far as I can let go of attachments, their absence fills with emotional and physical joy.
Took a long while, since most of the time I was practicing alone. But, like Dostoevsky’s man who died and was sentenced to crawl for a million years before he could enter heaven, I can say it was worth it.
I also find that Zen Buddhism is very much a religion, but that you can have a Zen practice without being in a religion. I feel like being in a religion is like wearing an extra jacket when it’s already warm outside. To each their own, of course, but I don’t think that Zen practice is only a religion. I don’t think I am the only one in that camp these days, maybe we just need a new name for it though 😉
How about Zen Thiefists?
“-30 windchill”, “slipping to my rims” … hmm I suppose your absence is excusable in this instance. Don’t make a habit of it.
Hi Alan. If you really spent several months puzzling over what the difference is between joy and happiness.. I’d say that you must really enjoy that type of activity, but isn’t it rather pointless?. I think there must be hundreds if not thousands of levels of wordless joy and happiness. But you seem happy with the decision you arrived at concerning them. The universe is back in order now with joy and happiness properly categorized. Loved your video btw. Cheers.
I’m glad you enjoyed the video. My photography is pretty pointless. It’s just entertainment.
But I really enjoy doing them. Each one brings me a little happiness when they work out. This happiness quickly fades.
The joy of making them is endless. Which is the difference between joy and happiness.
It’s interesting that you feel my examination of joy/happiness was pointless. It wasn’t.
Alan, You are right. Just because I don’t get that kind of verbal dissection doesn’t mean it’s pointless. I pretty much think the opposite of you regarding words. I’m not saying you are wrong and I am right. I’m saying I don’t think you nailed anything down in the months you puzzled on the problem. To me it’s impossible to say. A lot of people say that words have meaning. I don’t think that. I think words are pointers at best. Sorry if I came off as arrogant or pedantic. I’m not the best communicator.
Thanks very much for your follow up post. It was good of you to clarify.
I understand your way of looking at words. They are slippery to such an extent that I’ve never had to courage to explore what that really means to me.
In regards to joy and happiness I would never claim that my (new) understanding of them is the one, true, universal definition. But it helped me a lot to realize that the two words didn’t mean the same thing.
One final clarification. My months long puzzling was run on a background processor, so to speak. I’d guess I spent maybe an average of 10 minutes a day on the task. The most fun I had was asking other people what they thought of the two words.
“How Distant Everything Is!
I don’t understand why we must do things in this world, why we must have friends and aspirations, hopes and dreams. Wouldn’t it be better to retreat to a faraway corner of the world, where all its noise and complications would be heard no more? Then we could renounce culture and ambitions; we would lose everything and gain nothing; for what is there to be gained from this world? There are people to whom gain is unimportant, who are hopelessly unhappy and lonely. We are so closed to one another! And yet, were we to be totally open to each other, reading into the depths of our souls, how much of our destiny would we see? We are so lonely in life that we must ask ourselves if the loneliness of dying is not a symbol of our human existence. Can there be any consolation at the last moment? This willingness to live and die in society is a mark of great deficiency. It is a thousand time preferable to die somewhere alone and abandoned so that you can die without melodramatic posturing, unseen by anyone. I despise people who on their deathbed master themselves and adopt a pose in order to impress. Tears do not burn except in solitude. Those who ask to be surrounded by friends when they die do so out of fear and inability to live their final moments alone. They want to forget death at the moment of death. They lack infinite heroism. Why don’t they lock their door and suffer those maddening sensations with a lucidity and a fear beyond all limits?
We are so isolated from everything! But isn’t everything equally inaccessible to us? The deepest and most organic death is death in solitude, when even light becomes a principle of death. In such moments you will be severed from life, from love, smiles, friends, and even from death. And you will ask yourself if there is anything besides the nothingness of the world and your own nothingness.”
The fellow strikes a noble pose complaining about people who strike poses on their deathbed, yet (s)he has the gall to talk about destiny.
Why do you like such dramatic poses for yourself, Sam?
Life itself is the dramatic pose, the ill-begotten curse mistaken as a miracle.
My new play gets into this… It shall be acted out soon…
and it will make you go mad…
I have seen horrible vistas in the human imagination, and you too shall see it soon once my play is out there.
“I have seen horrible vistas in the human imagination, and you too shall see it soon once my play is out there.”
No, thanks, I’ve had plenty. I’m not a natural born optimist. That’s why I was so interested in religion as a child, looking for some kind of promise of comfort and safety, and the ability to be certain about it.
Thank God for entheogenic substances! Because of the Morning Glory, I never needed to read Watts’ The Wisdom of Insecurity – the title was sufficient.
As for the depth of horror, between my drug explorations and the realities of my family history and current events on the Internet, I have to ask you, why propagate more in your art? Do you feel it will wake people up, or relieve yourself of the horrors by sharing?
Life IS horror.
I’m just being honest in saying how it is.
As an unqualified statement, that’s bogus.
My play when it comes out is the qualification.
Will you watch it then? I’ll get it on Youtube and also post the script.
It is almost done.
It won’t hurt to take a look at it.
“It is a thousand time preferable to die somewhere alone and abandoned so that you can die without melodramatic posturing, unseen by anyone.”
Interesting, I was just thinking that Sam Harris is probably my favorite thinker. Goes to show you how we all have our views. I am just so happy to simply hang out, sit, play with some ideas, including Dogen, and do some writing. Recently, I have been on this kick of trying to help people and that certainly has, well, sucked. LOL. But I still try thinking a hand up will help them but usually they bite it. Today I was ripped off of $200.00 bucks trying to help someone get a room for a week. I should have sent it to Brad.
I spent 45 years in serious, serious, study and traveled far and wide listening to teachers. In the end the ONLY thing that made much sense to me was serious Zazen and letting go of figuring it out. At that point I just kinda let go and for the most part nothing bothers me. Yes, I hate to see people suffering and I am not fond of death. Yet, somehow I am peace with it all. Not even going to try to explain it because, once again, it would be more words, ideas, and concepts.
I do want to thank you for letting me be part of this as I feel somewhat sane when I read your posts. I don’t think I ever felt MORE insane than my three years in a Tibetan monastery. This right after 2 years in a Zen Monastery.
What am I trying to say? That somehow it all worked out for me and I have no idea how or why. While I am still an ass I am MUCH more compassionate and caring. No question about that one but I still want to smack most of the sangha.
Have a great weekend and Brad, if I ever get to L.A. the beer in on me
5 years in two monasteries. How still did the mind get? Why was the Tibetan monastery insane?
Shamany as in shaman? Ever do Ayahuasca?
“[Note: In January 2015, Ryushin was asked to step down as abbot of ZMM. By his own admission, he had been engaged in “an intimate relationship with someone outside our sangha” thus betraying his partner, “breaking our spiritual union vows and ending our marriage.” He also admitted that he had been exploring “shamanic traditions and religions” and that his inclusion of elements of these in his presentation of the Dharma “was irresponsible and might have caused some confusion”
The mind got very very very still during sesshins. My experience was wonderful but I am very careful to suggest anything to anyone. The Tibetian experience was insane because they are full of magical thinking ( See Spiral Dynamics ).
I also found it interesting that the guru told the students what to do and when to do it. In my zen experience the teacher basically said, ” figure it out” and ” how the hell would I know”.
I was at Zen Mountain in New York off and on for 12 years, so I have been very interested in the Ryushin situation since he was one of my primary teachers. John Daido Loori was my main teacher and he was a no bull shit, no answer kinda guy. I loved him dearly.
I spent the last 25 years in a very intense spiritual search, only to find out there was nothing to seek, it was already present. I am quick to point out I have no answers but sure enjoy the process and the journey. I have also enjoyed all these posts.
I like Brad because he questions, probes, and digs. Yet, he is a very serious student of Dogen and and had training for a long time. I agree with much of what he says. I found, for myself, I do best with long times of solitude and silent retreats. The only thing I miss about the monastery is having access to a teacher and I miss the sessions.
Generally I keep very private so this is unusual for me to share on a blog. However, I did enjoy so many posts and have enjoyed Brads blog, so I decided to jump in for a bit.
Not sure if that answered any questions and I am not even sure if there WAS a question.
Have a wonderful week
I used to teach Shamanism from an academic view and experienced a few workshops, etc. I spent time with John Perkins, etc, but it never quite did it for me. I mostly was looking at the consciousness of Shamanism from a Spiral Dynamics perspective.
I am friends with Rick Stassman so I probed his mind regarding DMT and Aya. I believe it holds GREAT promise for treatment of drug and alcohol addiction, and for the most part think very positive about the potential. It would help many Zen masters get over themselves. ( At least in my view )
Frankly, I was happy Ryushin did what he did. ( Minus the issue with Hojin ).
Ryushin is so frinkin bright I suspect he got tired of not exploring everything, including Aya. Spending time with him was amazing and I have no issue with anything he did. Why would I judge him when I have my own stuff to deal with?
Daido was very anti drugs but he also left it to the individual. Shugan is very intense and tends to be conservative which is why I enjoyed hearing the views from some people on this blog. I consider Daido one of the great teachers in the West because he never considered himself a teacher.
That was a long answer but wanted to respond since I am doing some research on Aya currently.
Fred, I also spent one year at a Vipassana center and deeply enjoyed it. It was nice to hang around the teachers and probe them a bit. I found them a bit more relaxed than Zen Mountain but the basic schedule was still intense enough. I do tend to like the rigor of Goenka but also enjoy a more relaxed approach like Vipassana.
I will once again point out: I am NOT suggesting anything to anyone. I don’t claim to have any answers and even if I did people have to discover it for themselves.
When people ask my opinion I will give it to them but normally it is simply to find a really good meditation teacher and jump in. And, I do learn from every post as it helps me get outside of my own views.
Would be nice to meet some of you in person but for now this blog helps me and I use it as a koan.
Cheers, Gassho, and all that stuff
I do tend to like the rigor of Goenka but also enjoy a more relaxed approach like Vipassana.
I always thought Goenka’s approach was a form of Vipassana. He was Burmese and trained in that tradition, and I’ve always seen his retreats advertised as Vipassana meditation retreats. Do you consider his teachings or approach to represent some other form of Buddhism? I’ve known several people who have gone to Goenka retreats (both before and after his death) and yes, the report is that they are quite rigorous.
In comparison to American Vipassana teachers (like Jack Kornfeld or Shinzen Young), I can see viewing Goenka’s approach in a more “traditional” and “authentic Theravadan” light. I’m just curious as to why you came to make this distinction between Goenka and Vipassana as “a more relaxed approach”.
Thanks for that – I wasn’t very clear
Very good questions and I thank you for the chance to be more clear.
First, Goenka is , what I consider, the strict form of Vipassana. The center I was at for a year had most of the ‘big wigs’ from Forest Refuge, etc, most names you would be familiar with. Those teachers were much less strict than Goenka, as you know. I do consider both forms of Vipassana.
I found Goenka to be very similar to a 10 day Zen sesshin without some of the liturgy , and forms of Zen. I enjoy both very much but I also enjoyed the retreats with other teachers from Spirit Rock, Forest Refuge, etc. I found the 30 day retreat of Brasington helpful as well.
My personal practice is combines many forms that have been helpful over the years. I am not sure I consider myself a Buddhist at all and I am not concerned about a label. Batchelor was very helpful to me as I saw how so many people want other to tell them what to do and when to do it. I mostly practice alone
but do try to get to three long retreats a year.
This blog and Brad have been helpful also as I respect the many views and insights people show. I am here to learn, reflect, and continue to play with ideas
So, I hope that explains a bit more about what I meant.
Best to You
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