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Zen Buddhism?

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Zen Buddhism?

Postby zafu on Thu Jul 14, 2016 10:36 am

I had an interesting dialogue over the weekend with a long term Ajahn from the Theravadin Thai forest tradition. A highly respected monk of 40 years he had some interesting takes on what is and what isn't Buddhism. He seemed quite knowledgeable with regards to Soto practice and Dogen. However, although not at all critical of the Soto tradition, he did suggest that as legitimate as it is, its 'not Buddhism'. I was hugely intrigued by this and asked for some clarification. Effectively he suggests that the Pali Canon is all that was needed in terms of the practice and the 'goal' (as it were). He asked why the Tripitika needed embeleshing? In terms of practice he was pretty adamant that some sort of sustained Samatha (like anapanasati) is required if insight is to be experienced - I suspect he was sugesting that Shikantaza wasn't going to have the same effect/outcome.

I am not experienced enough to have been able to offer a retort.

What are your thoughts?

Z
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Re: Zen Buddhism?

Postby desert_woodworker on Thu Jul 14, 2016 3:00 pm

Well, the Theravadin way is the perfection of states of meditation, the jhanas in particular.

For this, the program given in the Visuddhimagga ("Path of Perfection") of Buddhaghosha is the wonderful text that is usually drawn from and followed by the Achaans and their disciples.

The Mahayana way, as in Zen Buddhist practice, is the perfection of Wisdom (true Wisdom).

For this, the Prajnaparamita literature is the guide. "Insight" alone is not here the self-sufficient end-goal, but a complete transformation by realization of true nature, instead, and then a life of living in accord with true nature, in which true Wisdom and true Compassion spontaneously arise, unbidden, in seamless accord with the circumstances and happenings within daily life.

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Re: Zen Buddhism?

Postby Nonin on Thu Jul 14, 2016 3:06 pm

Actually, putting down another school of Buddhism is "not Buddhism." It's just egoism. A long-standing teacher should know better, if he is a long-standing teacher.

Hands palm-to-palm,

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Re: Zen Buddhism?

Postby desert_woodworker on Thu Jul 14, 2016 3:13 pm

I write this just as a joke, but maybe a teacher of long standing is a practitioner who is not or has not been a practitioner of long sitting. ;)

(but that can't be true of teachers in the Forest Tradition, from what I've heard).

_/\_ ,

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Re: Zen Buddhism?

Postby Caodemarte on Thu Jul 14, 2016 3:37 pm

There is no need for a retort or argumentation with sectarian views, especially one with so many logical and historical flaws. Just move on. Many people believe that only their views represent true Buddhism, Christianity, Mao Tse-tung thought, etc. because they hold them because they heard or studied them. It is a simple error of ego, ignorance, and grasping that we all fall into from time to time.
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Re: Zen Buddhism?

Postby desert_woodworker on Thu Jul 14, 2016 3:51 pm

Well, the Pope before the present one asked why Islam was ever "needed", and asked what it brings that is "new".

Among the Abrahamic faiths, does it bring anything new to the table? His implied answer was "No", and he took some heat in the Press at the time for bringing this up, although the press is not necessarily best fitted as a forum for learned religious and philosophical or historical discussion. The Press stirred up a hornet's nest among the public by making it seem as if the Pope was making a criticism. Maybe he was, but his question as I see it is a good one, and has good answers.

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Re: Zen Buddhism?

Postby TigerDuck on Fri Jul 15, 2016 3:32 am

It is incorrect to say that Pali sutta is not available in Mahayana.

Pali sutta and Mahayana agama are actually equivalent with a little discrepancy. But because Mahayanists talk more about other Mahayana sutra then Mahayana agama, it gives an impression that there is no Pali sutta in Mahayana.

So Mahayana includes Agama (~Pali sutra) + other sutras. The scope is more in Mahayana. This is not a kind of embellishments, but teachings that are not acknowledged by Theravadists.

Bhikkhu Analayo in his book "Perspectives on Satipatthana", compared Satipathanna Sutta from Pali tradition and Mahayana Agama. You can see below how close they are.

I just quote one paragraph to highlight the similarity. For completeness, you can refer that book.

Majjhima-Nikaya:

One examines this same body, however it is placed, however disposed, by way of the elements: "In this body, there are the earth element, the water element, the fire element, and the wind element." ... it is just as a skilled butcher or a butcher's apprentice who, having killed a cow, were to be seated at the crossroads with it cut up into pieces.

Madhayama-agama:


One contemplates the body's elements: "Within this body of mine there are the earth element, the water element, the fire element, the wind element, the space element, and the consciousness element." It is just as a butcher who, on having slaughtered and skinned a cow, divides it into six parts and spreads them in the ground [for sale].

Ekottarika-agama:
One contemplates [ reflecting]: "in this body, is there the earth element, the water [element], the fire [element], and the wind element?" In this way ... one contemplates this body.
Again, [when] ... one contemplates this body by distinguishing the elements in this body as being the four elements, [then] this is just like a capable cow-butcher or the apprentice of a cow butcher who divides a cow [into pieces by cutting through] its tendons. While dividing it he contemplates and sees for himself that "these are the feet", "this is the heart", "these are the tendons", and "this is the head."




Now are they similar or not?

It is true that Theradava does not have many Mahayana sutras like Lotus sutra, Heart sutra, etc.
But it is not true that Mahayana does not have Pali sutta. It definitely has in its agama, with a slight variation.

(Only we seldom hear Mahayanists discuss about Agama, so it gives an impression Mahayana doesn't have the teaching, which in fact they have.)

Through nonconceptuality, he is immovable.

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Re: Zen Buddhism?

Postby Seeker242 on Fri Jul 15, 2016 11:43 am

zafu wrote:
I am not experienced enough to have been able to offer a retort.

What are your thoughts?



Offer him some tea! :)
Kill a cat, with a dried shit stick, under a cypress tree in the courtyard, while eating three pounds of flax! Only a cow goes Moooo!
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Re: Zen Buddhism?

Postby zafu on Sun Jul 17, 2016 2:58 pm

Nonin wrote:Actually, putting down another school of Buddhism is "not Buddhism." It's just egoism. A long-standing teacher should know better, if he is a long-standing teacher.

Hands palm-to-palm,

Nonin


Note, I said he wasn't being critical.

'Not' being critical.

I'd suggest we dont compose replies based on what has 'not' been said.

Best wishes.....
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Re: Zen Buddhism?

Postby zafu on Sun Jul 17, 2016 3:00 pm

Seeker242 wrote:
zafu wrote:
I am not experienced enough to have been able to offer a retort.

What are your thoughts?



Offer him some tea! :)


Thanks. Have you anymore thoughts on this?
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Re: Zen Buddhism?

Postby zafu on Sun Jul 17, 2016 3:02 pm

Caodemarte wrote:There is no need for a retort or argumentation with sectarian views, especially one with so many logical and historical flaws. Just move on. Many people believe that only their views represent true Buddhism, Christianity, Mao Tse-tung thought, etc. because they hold them because they heard or studied them. It is a simple error of ego, ignorance, and grasping that we all fall into from time to time.


Well, thats all rather judgemental and riddled with presumptions!
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Re: Zen Buddhism?

Postby Caodemarte on Sun Jul 17, 2016 4:50 pm

My comments were intended as advice to avoid retorts and simple observation, rather than a judgement, on what seems a view taken from 19th Western scholars or sectarian writings (early or based on early Western scholars). Any good modern book on Buddhist history or the development of Theravada, especially modern Theravada, would observe that this often repeated 19th century view contains several false historical assumptions and errors of logic. The same would be observed of the oft repeated claim that Theravada is not "real" Buddhism because it does not accept Mahayana sutras and teachings which came before the Theravada movement arose. That said, I often fall into simple errors of ego, ignorance, clinging to views because my precious petty self has them, etc. So I will have a cup of tea.
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Re: Zen Buddhism?

Postby zafu on Sun Jul 17, 2016 5:36 pm

Can you recommend a good book on the history of Buddhism that can be relied upon to offer a definitive view on these points? Particularly the historical innacuracies in the Theravada?
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Re: Zen Buddhism?

Postby desert_woodworker on Sun Jul 17, 2016 8:35 pm

Z.,

zafu wrote:Can you recommend a good book on the history of Buddhism that can be relied upon to offer a definitive view on these points? Particularly the historical innacuracies in the Theravada?

No.

But a good book is Edward Conze's, BUDDHIST THOUGHT IN INDIA, 1962; 1967; Ann Arbor Paperbacks.

This is a book that you can continue reading for ten years. Finish it and start over. Finish it and start over. Like that. As your view of the neural network of Buddhist traditions fleshes-out, being bolstered inevitably even by other reading and study of yours, and by your own Buddhist practice, this book will give you yet new pegs or footholds time and again to support your understanding of developments and relations.

His writing in the book is impeccable, but is not as (merely) technically academic as some other scholars' writing and language. Conze was also a translator from Pali and Sanskrit, and he is a particularly good commentator, I find, to help me with various sutras.

But the book I mention is an appreciation and history of early Buddhist developments, and I have found it always valuable to have at home.

Conze was someone with great sympathy for Buddhist practice, although I don't know which school he favored. Some administration at places where he taught academically are said to have called him in occasionally for being rather a Buddhist zealot or even "proselytizer", when his salaried job was specifically and solely to teach academics. I think he could not see a separation between lived-Buddhism (practice... ), and the history of development of Buddhism.

A good (wonderful... ) guide, that professor. I feel gratitude for each of his lucid and kind sentences. It's clear his heart is open.

I hope you too come to feel a friend in him. I wholeheartedly recommend the book, for the long and short term, and the long haul.

rgds.,

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Re: Zen Buddhism?

Postby Caodemarte on Sun Jul 17, 2016 10:19 pm

The historical flaws are not in Theravada or in the person you spoke with, but rather in the sectarian argument. It is observable that the oft repeated argument is sectarian and not very defensible in the light of modern research.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of scholarly books to look at in English alone. You might like The Buddhist Religion: A Historical Introduction by Richard H. Robinson and Willard L. Johnson for a quick overview;
The Birth of Insight: Meditation, Modern Buddhism, and the Burmese Monk Ledi Sayadaw by Erik Braun for a look at how Theravada Buddhism was re-imagined; or The Making of Buddhist Modernism by David L. McMahan.

None of this can be "definitive," but the pretty well universally agreed upon consensus story of Theravadin and non-Theravadin scholars is that Theravada was a self conscious "reform" movement that wanted to pare away what was seen by some as excesses and over elaboration. The movement called itself the "Way of the Elders" because it looked backwards to the Third Buddhist council of 250 BCE for inspiration. Since they were inspired by this event, it was sometimes claimed that they were the spiritual descendants of that Council and some sects that took part in it (often imagining that these sects "must have" believed in the same things the new Theravada did). Theravada eventually supplanted the existing Tantric Buddhist and Hindu religions in SE Asia, often repurposing their temples and monasteries, as a quick look at most old temples will clearly show. So the claim that Theravada is closer in time to original Buddhism is just ahistorical.

Almost all modern Theravada stems from another self-conscious reform movement (also seen as forms of reaction or resistance to Western imperialism) in the 19th and 20th centuries. People deliberately looked back to the texts and tried to re-imagine the tradition to re-create local Buddhism, especially its meditation techniques. AFAIK, the only form of mediation in the Thai Forest Tradition that predated this very self-aware text based movement is actually clearly a form of Tantric Hindu meditation.

You cannot logically argue that Mahayana Buddhism is not historically Buddhist since its sources are older and it has far more historic continuity. Dogen and his descendants then appear to have a better historical claim on being Buddhist than any modern Theravadin.

Very early Western scholars believed Theravada actually started at the 3rd Council and was simply a conservative remnant of early schools at that Council. Many also thought the Buddha spoke Pali, the language of the Theravada suttas, which is impossible. They also thought Theravada was like Protestantism, which many believed represented sweeping away corrupt historical accretions to get to true Christianity which everyone else had somehow misunderstood until modern Protestants came along. These later proven false assumptions and much of this attitude infected later generations and got fed back into Buddhist regions as their introduction to other regional forms of Buddhism with which they had had limited to no mutual contact. These misunderstandings have been carried back again to the West by non-scholarly Western practitioners.

Of course, none of this actually matters in Buddhism as a religion so the argument is religiously flawed. The question is what works and what is true, NOT who said it and when. As Robert Aitken wrote, what difference would it make to Zen practice if it was shown that the historical Buddha never lived? His guess was not much. If Einstein was shown to be a mythical figure, how would that affect the truth or falsity of the equations?

So if Theravada works for you and you agree with its interpretation of Buddhism, use it. If Dogen works for you, use Dogen. That is what Buddhism is, in both Thervada and the Mahayana. It is practice, not primarily intellectual or historical speculation (much as I enjoy that! :grr:)

Additionally, since they stem from the same source, many Mahayana and Theravada philosophies often actually either agree with each other or are not in conflict. :hugs: A History of Buddhist Philosophy: Continuities and Discontinuities by the late David J. Kalupahana argues that the most radically unique Mahayana doctrines are actually Theravada doctrines, but he may be too much of a Theravada triumphalist for many Theravadins and Mahayanists alike.

P.S. The idea that samatha must/does not have to occur before "insight" arises and the order in which various internal states must arise is an intra-Theravada technical discussion with many, many different positions taken by different teachers that has less relevance to Zen practice which has less concern with states of consciousness and mapping them.
Last edited by Caodemarte on Mon Jul 18, 2016 1:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Zen Buddhism?

Postby zafu on Mon Jul 18, 2016 7:02 am

:Namaste:

Great post thanks. This is what I was after. I guess I need to read more in order to get such an overview. From what you have said I suspect I had fallen foul to the idea that there had been some sort of unbroken lineage from the Buddha through to modern Theravada and Zen was a legitimate but tangential off shoot.

Thanks again!
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Re: Zen Buddhism?

Postby Caodemarte on Mon Jul 18, 2016 12:59 pm

Hope the potted historical summary helps more than it confuses, but please remember that we are talking about a murky area where I have grossly oversimplified the controversies for clarity. Not even the definitions of Theravada and Mahayana or "beginning'' are clear. You can define either in different ways and come up with different "beginning" dates and argue about who was on first. So there is nothing "definitive."

It is much like Zen ancestors charts. Are they historically perfectly accurate (in the sense that this person physically met so-and-so on this particular date) all the way back? Probably not. Does it matter to the religious meaning and purpose of the charts? Not so much.
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Re: Zen Buddhism?

Postby desert_woodworker on Mon Jul 18, 2016 4:14 pm

Yeah, and I wouldn't look for "differences" before forming a solid survey of the entire field. Holding in mind "difference" while surveying is a bias.

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Re: Zen Buddhism?

Postby zafu on Wed Jul 20, 2016 2:38 pm

desert_woodworker wrote:Yeah, and I wouldn't look for "differences" before forming a solid survey of the entire field. Holding in mind "difference" while surveying is a bias.

--Joe


There are however, massive differences in approach and philosophy. One being the Bardo in the Tibetan schools as opposed to Theravadin views on similar subjects. I really dont think theres anything wrong with seeng, investigating or acknowledging difference.
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Re: Zen Buddhism?

Postby desert_woodworker on Wed Jul 20, 2016 2:57 pm

z.,

I "really" don't either.

zafu wrote:I really dont think theres anything wrong with seeng, investigating or acknowledging difference.

But to look for differences to catalog before having a good image of the broad landscape is indeed bias. It's the good survey I'm emphasizing the value of.

(The Buddhadharma is a rich school of Medicine. It's aimed toward inducing waking-up [to true nature, wherein true Wisdom can arise], and realization of that nature in all of life).

Differences amongst traditions and lineages, should there be any, will announce themselves when one is sufficiently informed. One does not have to hunt for them. It sometimes happens that when you look keenly for "difference", difference is all you see.

:lol2:

"Where, but for sameness, would distinctions be?" --Mariquita Platov

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