Discussions of Zen Buddhism in all shapes and sizes.
I found this teaching to be very valuable and only wish I had come across it sooner. Zen practitioners can sometimes seem to neglect the preliminaries, such as the Paramitas and jump straight into Emptiness teachings which are teachings of a very high order that one has to be ready for. This is how one was traditionally taught in Chan, I believe, and monastic life still goes some way towards building up the foundation for successful practice. As laypeople the onus is on us (and our teachers) to make sure this foundation is there and our practice is able to take root.
The bit of text is too long for me to type at the moment, here are some photos of it that I hope are legible (click on them).
From Suvikrantavikrami-pariprccha Prajnaparamita sutra, excerpt translated by TC Cleary.
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Interesting, Dan. Very good to consider our own readiness for certain things. I couldn't help thinking, one who might fall into one of these categories may not want to admit to themselves they fall as such and press forward. Or those easily swayed by suggestion might be held back by doubt (maybe I'm too scatterbrained ). But somehow I wonder if we have a natural mechanism in place to guide us accordingly to where we are best to focus -- for instance, being inspired in a certain direction, or running into difficulties so that we back up...
"If you don't have the disease, don't take the medicine."
I think in the case of emptiness, this is even more the case, given the differences in the general religious context in which it was taught, when compared to the modern one.
During the Buddha's time, the notion of continuity after physical death was a fairly standard idea. In order to support this notion, most religious systems posited the idea of an eternal "soul" entity (atman), which went from life to life. The main difference that the Buddha posed, was that although there was such continuity after death, there was no eternal "soul" which underlaid this process. The absence of such an eternal soul is "emptiness". In the Buddha's teaching, there is continuation after death - dependent origination, without a soul - emptiness. In that time, it was "emptiness" that thus demarcated where Buddhism was different from other systems of thought.
However, for many in the present, the default answer given by the materialist position is that physical death is the absolute end of life. (Any sort of continuity merely expressed as the continuation of matter going into the earth, etc. which is really totally different from ancient Indian notions of rebirth.) Therefore, for people who have this view, the notion of "emptiness" as lack of a soul can be easily misinterpreted to further support the notion of no continuity after death. In this way, Buddhism mainly differs from the materialist point of view by positing "rebirth and continuity after death".
In classic Buddhist teachings, it is often stated that the teaching of "emptiness" is mainly for those who cling to the notion of an eternal soul; and the teaching of "continuity in rebirth" is taught to those who cling to non-existence after death.
For those who believe that there is nothing after physical death to lean too heavily on the Buddhist teachings of emptiness, is to take the medicine for someone else's disease. Usually, their own disease in not cured, and in fact it may get quite a bit worse. ("Even the Devil quotes the scriptures!")
By the way, Dan74, nowadays if you have a scanned PDF file, you could probably put it into Google Documents, and OCR it there, into text.
Yeah and when one is at the stage where honest self-appraisal doesn't begin, then perhaps one should stay away from Zen and build up merit through good deeds, like they did in the good old days. But hey, we know better these days, don't we? We want our big houses, big cars and big minds!
Well I don't think it is suggesting one needs to be perfect in order to study and practice the Perfection of Wisdom teachings! But facing these qualities and developing some discipline to deal with them is probably a good idea, if not a necessity.
Maybe you do!
For my part I'd say that we come to karmic crossroads all the time and more often than not we take the path propelled by our tendencies and habits rather than the natural mechanism which chooses the best. This very moment, you and I conversing on this medium and some other readers looking at this thread is another such cross-roads. Somebody who is misunderstanding or misapplying Perfection of Wisdom teachings may happen to recognize themselves in this depiction, stop dead in his tracks and reflect.
I will have to try to do that in the future, Venerable. For now I am at home recovering from a flu, with no scanner, and no clue (as yet) how to use Google Documents.
I hope you recover soon, Dan. Thanks for sharing this.
Very nice explanation, Venerable. I really appreciate how you are able to put the Buddha's teachings into the cultural and historical context like this. I think a lot of Westerners do get confused by things, because we are often coming to the teachings with completely different world views.
I had a dose of emptiness medicine when I fit into the shameless, scatterbrained and other categories, and it did screw me up but good for a while. I totally agree with these points, and think it is best for people to in a mundane sense "get their shit together" (precepts, paramitas, eightfold path, etc) before getting a dose of sunyata.
Facing a precious mirror, form and reflection behold each other. You are not it, but in truth it is you.
is there emptiness meditation then?
i am probably of the opinion that mere written words can't really be dangerous and that, upaya aside, people shouldn't be frightened of exploring any aspect of doctrine.
do unto others as they would have you.
in f*** up world where f***ing up is KING.
Thank you for this post Dan. I was a jumper into emptiness and suffered many bouts of aperspectival madness until finding a ground in Sangha. Maybe part of the problem is the notion of "emptiness"? We can really only speak of "emptiness-form". The "anything goes" view of "emptiness" can't get a foothold with "emptiness-form". It would have helped in the early going if someone pointed this out. Head and tails are two sides of one coin, but heads are still heads and tails are still tails.
Do you think that the teachings of rebirth are then a necessary part of Buddhism?
Matt -- I'm sure Huifeng will have a more coherent answer, but here's my take:
The teaching of rebirth is useful for those who have yet to make their peace with rebirth. It's like teaching that the sky is blue when the sky is already blue. In practice, what is called "rebirth" simply asserts itself ... this moment becomes that moment becomes this moment becomes that moment.
This is who any of us are and yet the question for those in need of teaching is, "Who am I?" Who is the one who scratched his nose a minute ago and yet picks up a pencil now? The past is irretrievable and yet is not really gone. The future is unknowable and yet is not disconnected. The present makes a nice talking point, but by the time anyone opens their mouth, it falls into the past. So what the hell is going on ... really?
In the face of such questions, annihilationism (there ain't anything after death, for example) and materialism (the crediting of abiding matter -- eg. there will be 77 virgins to feed me grapes when I die) both hit a brick wall.
Practice makes rebirth a reality. Hollywood makes money from reincarnation. But as a means of offering another way of seeing things, the teaching of rebirth is a pretty good prod. It copes with the matter of separation in the same way it copes with the one-ness crowd.
Basically, we keep on practicing until the blue sky is blue.
If any of that makes sense.
Its a timely discussion which is aired on a regular basis for good reason. If one hangs about Buddhism long enough one comes across those who read that
" Form is Emptiness"
and then the wind changes and they get stuck there. In a state of solipsistic denial
But that sentence is actually followed by
" And Emptiness is Form "
which is an altogether different kettle of fish.
One good variety of Emptiness medicine is to engage fully with the world and drop any spiritual narcissism one detects in oneself.
Including the urge to be a Zen master, or an iconoclast, or be Enlightened or to be an emissary of the Age Of Aquarius..
I agree that one needs to keep both phrases (“form is emptiness, emptiness is form”) and I wholeheartedly agree that “to engage fully with the world”, including sitting with a sangha, is very good medicine; but I also think that one needs ‘the urge to be enlightened’, at least for some time; otherwise one won’t enter the path and have the motivation to practice.
“Enlightenment means to see what harm you are involved in and to renounce it.” David Brazier, The New Buddhism
DO NO HARM
"The urge to be enlightened" relates to Virya Paramita, as I understand it... the energy to practice. There's a lot on the subject... To me, it is an open handed, energetic practice that is quite different from a more "driven" agenda for enlightenment. I hear Robert Aitken's book on the paramitas is a good source tho I have not read it.
Not last night,
not this morning;
Melon flowers bloomed.
I wouldnt disagree Clyde. I was talking of the striving to Be Enlightened as a narcisistic preoccupation. Me... The Buddha.
I have to acknowledge that this might only be a problem for me.
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