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dual-cultivation, generating insight, need help

A place to share and discuss the practice of Zen Buddhism without teachers. Debates about whether practicing without teachers is possible or desirable are not appropriate here, nor are criticisms of Zen Buddhist practice with teachers.
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A place to share and discuss the practice of Zen Buddhism without teachers. Debates about whether practising without teachers is possible or desirable are not appropriate here, nor are criticisms of Zen Buddhist practice with teachers.

dual-cultivation, generating insight, need help

Postby GrueHunter78 on Mon Apr 13, 2015 10:03 pm

Greetings,

[NB: The following is a rather detailed post because I felt I had to explain certain things in order to make clear my point of departure and the problems I am facing. I am sincere in my query; still, many apologies for the long post!]

Although this is the "Zen without teachers" forum, I'm actually writing to find out if there is anyone here who knew of a teacher or knowledgeable person who wouldn't mind helping me from a distance in my meditation practice [PMs are fine, if ya do]. I live in a town where, as far as I have been able to find out--there aren't any Ch'an/Zen teachers, though there are a few Zen groups with out-of-state teachers. However, since I'm married with two small children (all non-Buddhists), I don't have much opportunity to get out of the house for non-work or -family matters, even if I could find a local teacher. Perhaps one day things will change, but for the moment that's the situation and I'm pretty much on my own except for forums, etc. That being said, I'm disciplined, dedicated to my practice, and serious about seeking liberation. Although I've only formally been a practicing Buddhist for less than a year, I've known about Buddhism for many years (I'm 36 now), having studied its history and doctrines in various classes throughout my academic schooling and also later, independently through my own reading. I've always felt a really intuitive acceptance of the Buddhist doctrines--as if they were something I didn't even have to think about in order to "believe" them; they just made sense "naturally", though I also had many opportunities to "test" them through my experiences of suffering and impermanence and--more and more in the past few years--my intuitions of the "emptiness" of all dharmas and an ultimate nonduality. These intuitions have actually become rather uncomfortable in the past few years as I have proceeded with my contemplative practice of looking within to find the "root" of awareness, and the best metaphor I can give for my general spiritual "feelings of unease" is that of a moth beating against a screen in the dark trying to find an opening. This unease drives me on. For ten years, between the ages of 25 and 35, I was a Muslim and practiced Sufism (Islamic mysticism), which included the daily practice of contemplative chanting of Divine Names, along with canonical prayers and the study of sufi metaphysical doctrines; at their core these doctrines come very close to those of Mahayana Buddhism. When I realized this, in combination with my inner sense of spiritual discomfort, I came to a sort of understanding that in Mahayana, particularly Ch'an Buddhism, I could find the most direct means to liberation and the end of suffering, since Enlightenment is the primary and immediate goal in Buddhism. In religions like Islam or Christianity, on the other hand, although nondual gnosis and liberation is certainly there in the background--in the deep mystical tradition and implied in the Scriptures with various degrees of specificity--the immediate goal is Paradise through a devotional piety in which an operative separation between individual self and Other is always in the foreground. I increasingly came to recognize that the source of all my suffering lay precisely in this sense of self. Even feelings of joy and happiness bolstered this sense of self, and I realized that until I got to the root of the matter and experientially "knew" my individual self as an illusion ("empty"), I would continue to suffer. I have found myself very naturally inclined towards the religious milieu of traditional Chinese Mahayana, with its eclecticism of methods, as opposed to the Japanese one-school only traditions (though I love many of the Japanese masters like Dogen and Bankei, I just seem to have a strong affinity with mainland traditions and their love of synthesis).

As for my daily Buddhist practice, it is as follows: along with the study of Buddhist doctrine, the Sutras and the records of various Ch'an/Zen masters, I have been practicing Ch'an according to the "dual cultivation" of two methods--the recitation of Amitabha Buddha's Name in a "Zen" way ("Real Mark" Buddha recitation), and Silent Illumination meditation. I feel a deep inner affinity with both forms of practice and don't feel I could do without either, sometimes feeling the need to do one, sometimes the other. Basically, I see these two practices as two forms of the same practice, and essentially inseparable--one, the nien-fo, being more "symbolic", though in essence identical with silent meditation when it is understood according to the noumenon, or "Buddha recitation essence".

Basically, I'm hoping that I can find someone with whom I can "check in" from time to time, maybe once a month or so, with a "report" on my meditation experiences, and receive some feedback, encouragement and/or direction. I'm devoted to my practice, sitting in "formal" silent meditation twice a day for about 25 minutes [for my basic instructions, see last paragraph: http://www.ymba.org/books/entering-tao- ... troduction], with some standard Mahayana vows and prayers before and/or after, and the dedication of all merit to the liberation of sentient beings and rebirth in the Pure Land. I try to recite the Heart Sutra once a day, and when I study the other Sutras I often do so aloud with the intention of benefiting sentient beings who may be invisible. I have a small altar where I often offer incense in front of an image of Amitabha, along with pure water, and I usually do some bowing/prostrating as well. I also like to read the Great Compassion Dharani when I can, along with the vows that come in the Sutra. I am hoping by these practices to clear my negative karma and plant roots that will enable my practice to flourish.

My goal is to be in some sort of "practice" at all times that will enable me to transcend the discursive mind, and this is where the chanting of nien-fo really helps, as I can do it loudly or silently at all times and it enables me to keep out deluded thinking when I am focused on it. Being of an academic bent, I tend to get carried away with thinking and ideas, and while these are often quite useful, they are also addictive and I realize that there is mostly delusion and descrimination in my thinking. Hence the chanting is really something that enables me to cut these down during the day, when I can't sit for silent meditation.

My primary concern here--hence my writing for help--is that I want to make sure I am getting both shamatha and vipasyana. I don't want to get "lopsided" with too much shamatha/samadhi, and I need help understanding how I can incorporate enough vipasyana into my practice, and hence generate wisdom (which after all is the key). I've tried the hua-tou "Who is reciting the Buddha's Name," but it tends to distract me more than anything (although I do have that doubt about "Who?", having had a rather powerful experience through contemplating Sri Ramana Maharshi's "Who am I?" enquiry a few years ago; it may actually have been my first glimpse into the emptiness of self; still, I am reluctant to work on a hua-t'ou without real supervision, though I have no doubt it can work wonders). Instead of the hua-tou, what little I have been able to read about Real Mark Buddha Recitation, Mind Only Pure Land recitation, etc, seems to imply that vipasyana is present in these methods as well. I just need to make sure I'm doing it correctly, and having someone knowledgeable with whom I can "check in" periodically will take a lot of the anxiety away about whether or not I am on the right track. The symbolic nature of Amitabha and the Pure Land is staggering in itself, and I find that contemplation upon this can be extraordinarily profound. Still, since most practitioners of PL have a more devotional understanding, it is hard to find a lot of literature in English about the Mind Only view; hence insight from a more knowledgeable person on this matter is greatly to be desired.

If anyone has any insight for me on the difficulties I have mentioned or/and knows of anyone trustworthy who can help me (or is a teacher themselves) please feel free to respond, here or in PM.

Many thanks,
:Namaste:
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Re: dual-cultivation, generating insight, need help

Postby desert_woodworker on Mon Apr 13, 2015 10:18 pm

GH,

Welcome! to the Forum.

Your practice background reminds me of my own. I too was with the Sufis for some years (while also being a Hatha yogi). I turned to Zen practice with the Chan teacher, Master Sheng Yen, and have been his student and disciple for long; he passed away a few years ago. I've practiced, too, some 20 years with a teacher of the Diamond Sangha, now also passed away.

Guo Gu, a teacher here at this Forum, is a transmitted heir of Master Sheng Yen, and he teaches Chan and holds retreats. He is also an academic, and a university professor of Buddhist Studies.

I think you'll find good conversations here.

Greetings!

--Joe

ps by the way, is the name "Gruel Hunter"? If so, that is very funny!, and nicely appropriate. :)

EDIT: pps I meant to mention, I also had a good couple or three years practicing in the way of Sri Ramana Maharshi, as you did (say, 1972-1974).

GrueHunter78 wrote:
Although this is the "Zen without teachers" forum, I'm actually writing to find out if there is anyone here who knew of a teacher or knowledgeable person who wouldn't mind helping me from a distance in my meditation practice [PMs are fine, if ya do].
Last edited by desert_woodworker on Tue Apr 14, 2015 12:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: dual-cultivation, generating insight, need help

Postby Caodemarte on Mon Apr 13, 2015 10:57 pm

Although somewhat different from your described method and from a Japanese derived form of Zen, check out:

http://www.treeleaf.org/

and

http://www.vineobstacleszen.com/moodle/
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Re: dual-cultivation, generating insight, need help

Postby macdougdoug on Tue Apr 14, 2015 8:10 am

GrueHunter78 wrote:
My goal is to be in some sort of "practice" at all times that will enable me to transcend the discursive mind, and this is where the chanting of nien-fo really helps, as I can do it loudly or silently at all times and it enables me to keep out deluded thinking when I am focused on it. Being of an academic bent, I tend to get carried away with thinking and ideas, and while these are often quite useful, they are also addictive and I realize that there is mostly delusion and descrimination in my thinking. Hence the chanting is really something that enables me to cut these down during the day, when I can't sit for silent meditation.



The very desire to escape from the psychological self through further conditioning is to continue within the causes and conditions of strife. To separate I from I and to pitch them against each other is to continue and deepen the conflict and separation already at work.

It is true that many call a version of this conflict : practise. Gautama himself struggled for many years before awakening.

There is a world of difference between effort and control; and awareness and appreciation. Many promote the one and some encourage the other. Know that the first step on the path is the only step.
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Re: dual-cultivation, generating insight, need help

Postby TigerDuck on Tue Apr 14, 2015 11:21 am

Hi GrueHunter,

I have read 'silent illumination method' by Master Sheng Yen.

This type of meditation belongs to direct path, where we shall be able to observe/experience nondual directly. It shall be experienced as something real, not just a concept or wishful thinking.

Because reality is perfect in every aspect by nature, how can we not realise it as such?

Direct path is very different with gradual path. In direct path, because everything is pure by nature, it is actually foolish if we practice with a target to improve a situation.

If we are doing a practice with a mindset to improve something, we are getting far and far away from reality.

We cannot make water to become water further no matter how we do to the water.
We cannot make the purity of reality to become purer and purer.

This philosophy must be understood for direct path practitioner.
If a direct path method is practised with gradual method mindset (where we try to improve something slowly until perfection), the direct path method will not work.

So, in a direct method, the objective of the meditation is to see directly the purity which is actually everywhere by nature, but unseen by us.

Because the purity of reality cannot be improved further, we cannot practice to improve the purity, but we practice to recognise this primordial purity more and more deeper. Therefore, it is also called the method of no method. There is no method at all to improve the purity of reality. But there is a method to make us recognise this purity further and further.

There is advantage, if besides reading silent illumination, you also read mahamudra or great perfection. They are actually same.

I would like to recommend 'The Royal Seal of Mahamudra' - the clearest direct method meditation I have encountered so far.

It is explained with the view of 'mind only' in the beginning.

(But please note, there are followers who regard mind as real, and also followers who finally see that mind itself is actually just a name only.)

If you have a teacher, it is good. But if you don't have, it also doesn't mean you can't find your own true nature. Because it is already in you right now. You can't improve it further , you can only recognise it or miss it.


All inner and outer entities
Have been designated by the mind.
Apart from the mind itself
They do not exist elsewhere.

Quote from 'the royal seal of mahamudra'

Through nonconceptuality, he is immovable.

[Nagarjuna]
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Re: dual-cultivation, generating insight, need help

Postby Michaeljc on Tue Apr 14, 2015 11:23 am

Hi and welcome GrueHunter78

My compliments on your dedication. There are some very good teachers here. There is also an awful lot of discussion

Having the academic bug, I cant see you dropping it all some time soon, and why should you? We can have our cake and eat it too, except that in this practice we cannot have it and eat it at the same time

Ultimately, this practice is beyond words and letters. We don't know where it will carry us. We are in a boat without rudder or oars - and in a fickle, sometimes violent, wind

We don't need to know the slightest detail on documented methods. They can in fact be a hindrance

Bon voyage

M
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Re: dual-cultivation, generating insight, need help

Postby GrueHunter78 on Tue Apr 14, 2015 6:20 pm

Dear Friends,
I am most grateful for all of your kind responses. I was very happy to see them, and feel honored. Your thoughts have given me much to think about in turn, and reminded me of things I have forgotten.

Joe,
Your experiences sound really interesting, and indeed similar to mine. It's always been a matter for me of finding a path that I felt confident could lead me all the way. Certain paths are more direct. To be honest--and not to ignite the inevitable controversy that is bound to arise whenever anyone mentions the similarities/disparities between Hindu Advaita Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhism (which I'd don't myself wish to engage in here :PP: )--I'm extraordinarily grateful to Sri Ramana Maharshi for teaching me what I had never even really conceived of before. I really feel that he was an illumined sage, and his method of self-inquiry, despite the difference in outward form and "religious" background, is really, for all I can tell, a hua-tou that could take one all the way by drilling through the illusions of self and phenomena.

As for Master Sheng-yen, I have enjoyed several of his talks on YouTube and his commentaries available online, and I am actually reading his dharma heir Guo Gu's book, The Essence of Chan, at the present time. I find this book to be almost uncannily good, a real treasure worth reading and rereading. It's an extremely clear and well-written commentary on a sermon by Boddhidharma, which truly gets at the "essence" of the matter. It's a shame that the author lives in Florida, though perhaps one day I'll have a chance to meet him.

Caodemarte,
Thanks for those links. I had heard of Trealeaf and I think Vine of Obstacles before, though for some reason I never really looked into them. I suppose now is a good opportunity to do so!

Macdougdoug,

The very desire to escape from the psychological self through further conditioning is to continue within the causes and conditions of strife. To separate I from I and to pitch them against each other is to continue and deepen the conflict and separation already at work.


This is indeed a baffling paradox! I'm glad you mention this, because I think it leads directly to, and compliments, what TigerDuck says here quite nicely:

Because the purity of reality cannot be improved further, we cannot practice to improve the purity, but we practice to recognise this primordial purity more and more deeper. Therefore, it is also called the method of no method. There is no method at all to improve the purity of reality. But there is a method to make us recognise this purity further and further.


In his book, Guo Gu also touches on this and gives the analogy of the furniture in the room. All these things--confusion, frustration, even spiritual joy and a sense of "enlightenment", are like the furniture that, regardless of how cluttered, elegant, ugly, old or new doesn't have any effect on the innate spaciousness of the room. I guess this is another version of the "host/guest" metaphor. But I also would have to think--and this touches on another riddle I'm trying to solve--that at the level of noumenon there is no real difference between the furniture and the room. I think this goes back to the Heart Sutra--form is emptiness, emptiness is form. And I suppose the difficulty of "realizing" this in one's very being, rather than merely conceptually, is the great source of frustration.

TigerDuck,
Thanks for your thoughts, which are a good reminder for me. Thanks also for the book suggestions. I have heard/read about Mahamudra and how it is similar to Chan meditation, but I held off from investigating it further because I knew it was intimately linked to Tibetan Buddhism, a subject which I find rather overwhelming--albeit tremendously fascinating--especially since gurus and empowerments are so emphasized for everything. However, since you mention them, I suppose there's no harm in giving them a read, especially if the philosophy of Mahamudra can be of assistance.

Michaeljc,
Thanks for your kind words and welcome. I'm glad we can "have our cake and eat it too", though I also appreciate the fact that we cannot do this at the same time. That's tricky isn't it? I suppose that's all part of the process of understanding the ultimate inseparability of "having cake" and "eating it", which requires wisdom--which, I needn't mention, I'm desperately in need of!

:Namaste:
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Re: dual-cultivation, generating insight, need help

Postby desert_woodworker on Tue Apr 14, 2015 6:36 pm

GH,

Yes, Ramana Maharshi's way felt good to me, and although I lived in a place (NYC) where there was still a practice ashram dedicated to his teaching and practice after he died, I turned to Zen Buddhist practice. By the way, if Advaita Vedanta still tickles you, you may know -- or want to know -- a fine little gem of a book by Alan Watts, "THE BOOK" (with its interesting subtitle... ). It's a slim paperback, and fun from beginning to end. Watts was on a roll when he wrote that one.

I hope you're aware that although Guo Gu is lately based in Florida, he travels a great deal and holds Chan retreats across the USA and overseas. You may be able to obtain his schedule at his site, or perhaps ask him here at this Forum, if you feel ready to undertake a practice retreat. From him you'll learn the physical-practices that Sheng Yen taught, too, which are helpful, no matter which meditation tradition you may now or later practice in.

best!,

--Joe
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