Sunday, May 15, 2016

見性,臥龍, and how to talk about something you might not want to talk about. Oh, and Buddhist Ethics, too!

The more I think about it, the more I think about how the ethos of the hidden master - the "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" ethos (or more Japanese-y 臥龍, (がりゅう, garyū), hidden talent, literally "reclining dragon") permeates Zen practice.  Or perhaps it ought to do so.

Maybe Philip Kapleau was too clever when he would not answer as to whether or not he was "enlightened." (I prefer to use the term awakened; it's more accurate as a translation, and really has a bit more of a pedestrian hint to it, in my humble opinion.)  Maybe not.  But at any rate it appeared to be that he was upholding a longstanding protocol in Zen circles that one does not talk about one's awakening, and doing so by noting that there's no separate "self" that gets awakened.

Regardless, if  one has thought they had such an experience, and if one were to think the experience were deeply important, deeply personal, and regardless of the depth of experience, if one thought that experience was to be respected, one might think that a practice of absolute humility in considering the experience, and conveying those considerations of the experience  would be called for.   

Part of the reason I write this is there are some people who call themselves Buddhist teachers - or at least Western Convert Buddhist Authorities - that say the idea of reporting one's 見性 to the world is a taboo that's not useful.

I beg to differ.

Whatever anyone has experienced, to put it into words would trivialize it, regardless of whether or not it has an official seal of approval or what-not.

James Ford writes about the kenshō experience here. And it was said, admittedly by Eido Shimano, that according to Hakuin, paraphrasing,   if you did this practice with enough ardor and duration that you would not fail to have a  kenshō experience even if you could not get out of bed. 

While I have much to agree with in James Ford's post, I can't, as they might say in certain telecommunications standards bodies, endorse it.  Which is another way of saying, I would not have written about kenshō that way.   Mostly because of the things I wrote above.

That said,  among other things, yeah,  reports pretty much universally confirm that nothing changes, so it's not surprising to see certain oshos get into spats with each other.   And among the things that might cause these spats are what seems on some level to be a rather silly dispute, although the reasoning behind it is largely well intentioned.  The dispute centers around which "teachers" of Zen are "teachers." 

Now there are levels of recognition in Japanese Zen Buddhism, and to some extent they've evidently filtered their way over here.  There are in Rinzai-shu,  kōan curricula.  There are probably other requirements too.  Sōtō folks don't all do  kōan practice, so what seems to be the case is that there is a set number of hours you have to clock in, and bam! - you get some kind of title or recognition.

This is where the reclining dragon comes in.  Regarding on who's got what position in Zen and what that position is or is not called, it's been generally recognized that there's clergy and there's laity more or less. These relationships between clergy and laity have changed over the years and will probably continue to change in the future.   Sōtō-shu  doesn't have a monopoly or didn't even start new models for laity/clergy relationships. Despite what's written in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, new models for laity/clergy were not started via Shunryu Suzuki in the 1960s.  It didn't even start with Sokei An.  It started with Imakita Kosen in Japan in the 19th century.   (There's an imperfect Wikipedia article about it.)

My point is that there seems to be a heck of a lot more attachment to titles than there ought to be.  I think I've said that before,  but I think it bears repeating every now and then.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Dharmakaya and the deity concept

I have never written a post on the Dharmakaya in the 10+ years this blog has existed.

I'm not sure anyone else has either, except possibly for Brad Warner , and if he didn't, he should have. (Sorry Brad I didn't read your book.)  Because he might be more qualified to write about the topic than me, except for the more than average education I had in Christianity, though, to be honest, I forgot most of what Thomas Aquinas said about Christianity, mostly because his "proofs' for the existence of god were... how shall I put this?... stupid.  And Bertrand Russell was more than a bit priggish in his refutations of Thomas Aquinas's stupidity, but that's neither here nor there, except to say that Russell was more engaging than Aquinas.

I pretty much marginalized the Dharmakaya in my own head when I read Shaku Soen make comparisons to monotheism that I thought were off.  I attributed that to a combination of a hyper-adherence to the literal meanings of Sutras with a lack of understanding of Christianity. Or to put it another way, a kind of Orientalism meets Occidentalism: the demand for understanding an "exotic" religion is made in terms of its Oriental apprehension of the Occidental. 

But  I kind have been missing the point all these years. 

What the heck is a Dharmakaya and why should I care - or not care - if it exists or doesn't? 

On a brief reading of the Wikipedia page, though, I would say that I would understand the Dharmakaya really, really apart from the Western concepts of a monotheistic deity, and not incompatible with my experience.  But definitely not an essential thing "one must believe" in order to be a good Buddhist. 

That is to say, the Dharmakaya is an effort to verbally express implications of an experience of Mind or  awareness of Mind, and its perfection of wisdom.

This is not a single "person" or a trinity, by any means. 

Shaku Soen wrote:

At the outset, let me state that Buddhism is not atheistic as the term is ordinarily understood. It has certainly a God, the highest reality and truth, through which and in which this universe exists. However, the followers of Buddhism usually avoid the term God, for it savors so much of Christianity, whose spirit is not always exactly in accord with the Buddhist interpretation of religious experience. Again, Buddhism is not pantheistic in the sense that it identifies the universe with God. On the other hand, the Buddhist God is absolute and transcendent; this world, being merely its manifestation, is necessarily fragmental and imperfect. To define more exactly the Buddhist notion of the highest being, it may be convenient to borrow the term very happily coined by a modern German scholar, "panentheism," according to which God is πᾶν καὶ ἕν (all and one) and more than the totality of existence. 
One of the most fundamental beliefs of Buddhism is that all the multitudinous and multifarious phenomena in the universe start from, and have their being in, one reality which itself has "no fixed abode," being above spatial and temporal limitations. However different and separate and irreducible things may appear to the senses, the most profound law of the human mind declares that they are all one in their hidden nature. In this world of relativity, or nânâtva as Buddhists call it, subject and object, thought and nature, are separate and distinct, and as far as our sense-experience goes, there is an impassable chasm between the two which no amount of philosophizing can bridge. But the very constitution of the mind demands a unifying principle which is an indispensable hypothesis for our conception of phenomenality; and this hypothesis is called "the gate of sameness," samatâ, in contradistinction to "the gate of difference," nânâtva; and Buddhism declares that no philosophy or religion is satisfactory which does not recognize these two gates. In some measure the "gate of sameness" may be considered to correspond to "God" and the "gate of difference" to the world of individual existence. 
Now, the question is, "How does Buddhism conceive the relation between these two entrances to the abode of Supreme Knowledge (sambodhi)?" And the answer to this decides the Buddhist attitude towards pantheism, theism, atheism, and what not. 
To state it more comprehensively, Buddhism recognizes the coexistence and identity of the two principles, sameness and difference. Things are many and yet one; they are one and yet many. I am not thou, and thou art not I; and yet we are all one in essence. When one slays another, there is an actor, an act, and a sufferer, all distinct and separate; and yet 
"If the red slayer think he slays,
   Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
   I keep, and pass, and turn again."
Buddhism, therefore, says that while we have to acknowledge the world of particulars in which individuality predominates, we must not forget that looking through the gate of sameness all distinctions and contradictions vanish in a higher principle of unity. A Japanese poet thus sings: 
"Rain and hail and ice and snow,
Neither like the other. So!
When they melt, however, lo,
See one stream of water flow! 
Intellectually, the coexistence of the two mutually excluding thoughts is impossible, for the proposition, "Mine are not thine," cannot be made at the same time the proposition, "Mine are thine." But here Buddhism is speaking of our inmost religious experience, which deals directly with facts and not with their more or less distorted intellectual reflections. It is, therefore, really idle to say that Buddhism is pantheistic or atheistic or nihilistic. Buddhism is not a philosophical system, though it is the most rational and intellectual religion in the world. What it proposes is to make clear facts of the deepest spiritual life and to formulate a doctrine which leads its followers to the path of inward experience. 
Thus, according to the proclamation of an enlightened mind, God or the principle of sameness is not transcendent, but immanent in the universe, and we sentient beings are manifesting the divine glory just as much as the lilies of the field. A God who, keeping aloof from his creations, sends down his words of command through specially favored personages, is rejected by Buddhists as against the constitution of human  reason. God must be in us, who are made in his likeness. We cannot presume the duality of God and the world. Religion is not to go to God by forsaking the world, but to find him in it. Our faith is to believe in our essential oneness with him, and not in our sensual separateness. "God in us and we in him," must be made the most fundamental faith of all religion.

It's the personalization  of the notion of God that is troublesome for me here.  What Soen is pointing to does seem to pervade Buddhism, both in its "operatic" form with myriad personages, throughout space and time and so on  This I have no issue with "A God who, keeping aloof from his creations, sends down his words of command through specially favored personages, is rejected by Buddhists as against the constitution of human  reason."  But I think it's a bit much to say "God must be in us, who are made in his likeness."  That's not to say that the "sameness principle"  samatâ, isn't a reality; it most certainly is, and we do indeed resonate  samatâ with breath, with each cycle of our life, with birth, with death, with love, laughter, and with tears.

I often say "Void forbid" or some other such statement in place of god; it's because Void is probably a better stand-in for the Dharmakaya than god.  I still think it does a bit of injustice to refer to the Dharmakaya as god, and it's an injustice to not only Buddhists, but monotheists and atheists.  I think it's better to keep these kinds of categories separated with respect to discussion their particular religious or secular terms of reference.  Sure, there are functional similarities between the Dharmakaya and the monotheist deity or the universe as we (don't) know it.  But the Dharmakaya wasn't put forth to be a placeholder for something in another religion or philosophy.  Or to put it another way, you don't really have samatâ without a corresponding nânâtva, gate of difference.

And yes, that's not necessarily the Buddhism of the practitioners of a Cha'n temple in Xi'an, but Buddhism tends to lack required catechisms that all must memorize by rote.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Buddhist Ethics?

Via Buddhist Geeks, I came across this piece on (")Buddhist ethics(") by David Chapman, who I have to say is a guy I haven't heard about before.

Mr. Chapman notes:

I use “Buddhist ethics” (with scare quotes) to refer to the ethics taught by Consensus Buddhism. (Consensus Buddhism is the American synthesis of the ideals of the 1960s youth movement with Asian Buddhist modernism.) Traditional Buddhist morality is quite different, as I’ll explain in upcoming posts.

As I understand it,  Mr. Chapman sees it "Buddhist ethics" is somewhat indistinguishable from some kind of bourgeois Whole Foods kind of progressive hipster ethos, or something like that, or at least something a college left-leaning Californian non-Buddhist might ought to find as different from his ethics, even if it's not the case.

I beg to differ.   And I think Brad Warner would too.

There’s a damned good reason the early Buddhists taught ethical precepts along with meditation. They understood right from the start that meditation without ethics can be a very bad thing indeed. For the meditator as much as for anyone else. But now we have to make our meditation courses completely secular. So a whole generation is learning to meditate without any training in ethics to go along with it.

Mr. Chapman is correct in asserting  that by and large, traditional Buddhist morality wasn't all that great.  However, although traditional Buddhist behavior of clergy was often intimately related to political intrigue and horrors such as slavery,  considering that there was no such thing as Western enlightenment philosophy from which to build (which itself carries a whole bunch of horrible baggage, e.g., as can be found from Marxist critiques of Locke),  it probably was more or less the best thing out there religion-wise at the time.  In fact,  later philosophies built on Buddhism as a religious tradition in the West.  Then there's the real likelihood that at least some aspects of New Testament Christianity were influenced by Buddhism (see for example, the Prodigal Son parables of the Lotus Sutra and the New Testament.)

But about that hypothetical Californian, I still beg to differ.

First of all,  Buddhist ethics - at least to me anyway - proceeds from something far more fundamental than the straw-man Californian ethics Mr. Chapman posits as identical to (")Buddhist ethics.(") It implies karma and compassion, but the fundamental thing is the emptiness of all phenomena.  There is a reason the Heart Sutra is written the way it is, and its point is not to promote a touchy-feely New Age kumbayasity.   All dharmas are fundamentally without an essential substance.    Buddhist ethics, as a dharma, is not non-existent, but perennially "in play."

I doubt the empty nature of ethics as a dharma is going to one day unfold into making us all regular Kodos the Executioners however.  Why do I say this? Well, folks wiser than me, and more learned than I am have been considering Buddhist ethics for a while. (Why, there's even a Wikipedia page on it. Though I admit it is ironic that a page on Buddhist ethics features Dennis Genpo Merzel.  But just because there's bugs in the system doesn't mean the system doesn't exist.)  Much of what has been written as Buddhist ethics does rely on textual analysis and criticism.  But regardless, ethics is a little like science or history, or case law.  One of the cool things about being a bipedal ape-descended life form called homo sapiens is that we are really good at using information as a tool to preserve learning across generations.  (Notice I didn't say we're unique in that.  I don't know about whether chimpanzees can do something like that, but slime molds might be able to do such a thing, for example.  It's just we're really good at using information.)

So naturally what is seen as Buddhist ethics in one century is going to have the potential to look quite different 1000 years later!  People, being people, are going to revisit questions about how to live and they're going to compare it to what people wrote down previously about the subject!  Based on this alone, there's really no difference in the relative "fixedness" of Buddhist ethics compared to any other ethics!

Secondly,  like a lot of Western Buddhist writing, it kind of ignores the fact that there are Asian practitioners of Buddhism, who would tell you that their own appropriation of Buddhist ethics might not be yours or mine.  Yes, there are no deep ethical treatises in Buddhism, at least none that I know about,  and in English.  But that does not mean that there is an obliviousness to wrongdoing or that there is no such thing as wrongdoing.  It is just that especially from a Buddhist perspective  emptiness + the nature of learning → what we see as acceptable behavior today might be unacceptable tomorrow and vice versa.   That's not a rightish or leftish thing, although to paraphrase Stephen Colbert the accumulation and advancement of knowledge might well have a liberal bias.

But more than that,  if a David Chapman writes "there's no such thing as Buddhist ethics,"  I do think that there is inherent in that statement an erasure of norms of Buddhist behavior or "case ethics" l as practiced by non-Western Buddhists.  There's literally millions of people who practice Buddhism who engage in certain behaviors because they see it as morally and ethically beneficial from a Buddhist perspective.  Would a "leftish" California person see the point of going vegetarian or Vegan depending on phases of the moon?  Yet quite educated and intelligent Chinese people do such a thing and could explain to you why they do such a thing.  And they and their clergy would look at you like you were from the planet Ogo if you were to tell them that their ethics and moral practices came from some "Consensus" Buddhist fusion of some Western stuff with some Buddhist stuff.  Or they might roll their eyes at the White Convert Buddhist-splaining of their take on ethics and morality.

Yeah, it's an elephant and we're all blind.

And if "case ethics" is "situational ethics" to you so be it.  Buddhist "absolutes" - that which in Western terms one would juxtapose against "situational ethics" or "moral relativism,"  - would be sunyata itself.  It's one of my many beefs with conservative moralists who inveigh against the lack of respect for "moral absolutes" that they have no idea what is absolute.  But I digress, except perhaps to say maybe a better idea for an essay is "There's no such thing as Western ethics."

Thirdly, what Brad Warner said.   Clearly it was the intent of early Buddhist monks to convey some type of behavioral norms.   And there were reasons why these behavioral norms were  conveyed, not the least of which was to try to get a bunch of mendicants not to go all People's Temple, I suppose.  Moreover, I think the privileging of meditation over ethics as is often represented in Western Convert Buddhist circles has consequences.  Mr. Chapman might say that's a trite statement, but experience has shown meditation without ethics is associated with certain problems arising from a lack of ethical practice, trite or not.

Fourthly, Chapman writes:

What’s missing is justifications: the “whys” and “wherefores” that are the substance of Western ethics. Mostly, Westerners take the “whats” as given; we don’t need to be told not to kill, steal, and lie. That’s kindergarten stuff. What we want to know is how to use principles to resolve conflicting moral considerations.

Coincidentally,  I was watching Richard Dawkins talking about science versus religion and he made the point that in regard to questions concerning things like how we got here, and such "why" is not an meaningful question to ask.  "Why" is not the same thing as "what is  the cause?"

In my apprehension of Buddhism,  my take on Mahayana Zen Buddhism,  a similar point applies. Cases of how to act when conflicting moral considerations are in play are dealt with based on our awareness of them, and our understanding of the implications of how to act in such cases.  Pay attention! And if you can't wrap your head around the Parable of the Burning House in the Lotus Sutra, or have to ask "Why?" about that,  I submit that yes, there's ethical issues, but it's not because there's an issue with the existence or nonexistence of Buddhist ethics.


If you're asking that question you're probably not paying attention.

I think this is a good start for now.  I see that as part of this series Mr. Chapman has a take on the mindfulness movement.   I might respond to that too, later. But this is good for now.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Get dressed, get blessed. Try to be a success. Please her, please him, buy gifts. Or,on being a 臥龍

Brad Warner has an interesting piece out that deals with issues that have been on my mind for quite a while.

Success depends on measurement and comparison. On the one hand, I am successful because I have six books out, all of which are still in print including the first one I published over ten years ago. I don’t have to punch a clock every day. I’m my own boss. I earn enough to pay my rent and my bills and have some left over to buy old records over at the Goodwill.
On the other hand, I am unsuccessful because none of my books has ever won a literary prize. They don’t sell as well as those by many other writers in my field. I’ve never been reviewed in the New York Times and no doubt never will. I’ll never be on Oprah’s Super Spiritual Sunday. NPR routinely ignores every book I put out. Bill Maher doesn’t want me on his show even though every other person who writes a book about religion gets on. I was once told by someone who deals with the big names on the spiritual scene that I am “not even on the radar” when it comes to the real stars of the meditation world. My retreats don’t pack ‘em in like those run by the big boys in the scene.

The sangha to which I belong is a very small sangha.  We've had one or two new members in the past 10 years. Yet, the osho of my sangha is a pretty accomplished guy.   It's just that in the US he's even less on the radar than Mr. Warner. (Japan is a bit different, let's just say.)

So sometimes I get the feeling that my osho's Zen doesn't get the attention it deserves. It probably won't appear in Adam Kōshin (meaning "Shining Heart") Tebbe's documentary on Zen in America if that ever gets made.  Our sangha doesn't get any mention on Sweeping Zen, though pretty much all the Rinzai osho's I've spoken with in the Pacific Northwest have heard of him.  We've never put up a booth at the Portland Buddhist Festival. 

There's reasons why my osho's sangha is small.  Part of that has to do with the fact that our sittings are done at his residence, and it would be kind of unusual for 60 people to suddenly show up for a zazenkai.  It also has to do with the fact that my osho also manages a temple in Japan, so much of the year he is not in the US.  Finally, it has to do with the fact that we have a really minimal internet presence.  We could actually have more of an internet presence, but we don't have one as of now.

Yet,  none of that really matters all that much.  It doesn't matter all that much because it's not the point of the sangha.  It's not the point of sitting, as Brad Warner points out either. 

This blog has been around for over 10 years.  I have something like 40 followers, and when I tweet about a post,  I might get a hundred or so readers, occasionally more if I'm posting something about a Zen scandal.   Adam Kōshin (meaning "Shining Heart") Tebbe might still disagree with me, but from the analytics it's obvious even in Zen Buddhism, scandal sells.  But I want this blog to be a bit more than about scandals, and besides, if it's only about scandals, then your source of content is exhausted once scandals die down.

I'm pretty successful, as the world defines success, in my career.  Substantially less so in other areas of my life.   But I really stopped worrying so much whether we have a "name" sangha or such.  This also has to do with something that Hakuin mentioned more or less: If you do this practice for enough years,  and with good intent, and attempt at least to be ethical, it can't not benefit you. That's not the same thing as having an explicit goal to make what I think is an obvious point.

In fact, I think some of the issues with American Zen/Convert Zen/... stem from the desire of some oshos to want their sanghas to grow and be popular or "successful." (You might think you know who I'm talking about, but besides them there's others.)

I should mention one other thing.  My osho's temple in Japan sits on a large hill (small mountain?) called 臥龍山, (がりゅうさん, garyūsan), which means "unrecognized genius," "exceptional person hidden among the masses," or "dragon laying down," or more colloquially, "sleeping dragon."  The word がりゅう is also a homonym for 我流, which has the kanji for "self," and "flow," and means, "self taught," or "one's own way."  That's a pretty apt name for a mountain on which to put a Zen temple, no?  It's finding one's way, and being a sleeping dragon, or as Lin Chi put it, a person of no rank.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Japanese Zen Culture, and American Zen Culture

I wanted to write a bit on this piece I found by Koun Franz on Zen Culture, from my perspective as a guy who's been doing Rinzai Zen practice for more than a couple of decades or so now, and as a guy who's practiced at temples in China, Japan, and the US, although not regularly outside of the US.

I don't think Franz's piece is necessarily wrong, but rather that it's self referential in kind of a way.  The blog Speculative Non-Buddhism might have more to say about this topic from their perspective than I would (but see self-referentiality with respect to them as well.)

Franz writes:

... I’ve noticed, especially recently, that one of the defining characteristics of Zen culture is a tendency to speak negatively about Zen. It’s built in. It’s fashionable. I cannot count how many conversations I’ve heard in Japan in which priests lament the state of the tradition, of the priesthood, of the monasteries. Someone I know once asked her teacher (a very high-ranking and respected Japanese monk in his own right, a teacher of teachers), “Are there any Zen masters in Japan?” He thought about it and replied, “No, I guess not. Well, maybe that guy in…. No, well, no. Maybe not right now.” Older monks love to talk about how the young monks just don’t get it, and the young monks can see that a lot of the old monks seem to be all talk and no action*. Everyone knows that the monastic standards have gone lax — again, there are exceptions, but one doesn’t have to look far to find an authorized training monastery that is a monastery in name only, where even zazen practice is maintained at only the most basic, basic level (once a day, maybe). 
If you’re new to Zen, this may all sound a bit shocking (or just sad), but it goes way, way back. 800 years ago, Dōgen (the founder of the Soto school in Japan) spent a good amount of ink complaining about how Buddhism has gone down the drain, how the people in authority have no idea what they’re talking about. Of course, Dōgen believed that the teachings he had received from his teacher, at least, were authentic; he just felt that he was more or less alone in what he was carrying. 
Some of these complaints about Japanese Zen are absolutely real — I am deeply pessimistic about the trends I see here. But some of this way of talking is also cultural — in a country where self-deprecation is as fundamental as gravity, one shouldn’t be surprised that so few people are prepared to say, “This is the real deal.” I suspect that in his time, a lot of Dōgen’s enemies despised him not for what he was teaching, but for the unapologetic confidence with which he taught it.

First of all, the * in the quoted text references a piece by Noriyuki Ueda-san on Zen in Japan (page 8).   I will make a few comments about that piece, too.  But, as I live in America, and Sweeping Zen has a wish to be somewhat authoritative in on-line Zen matters, I'll deal with them first.

There's a tendency amongst American Sōtō Zen oshos and practitioners to view Sōtō Zen as the Zen and Dōgen as the guy, the authority from which argument can be justified.  It's kind of strange from my vantage point, because from that vantage point Dōgen is not separate from the Buddha or the ten thousand things.  Dōgen was a pretty brilliant guy, but a lot of people want to make an icon out of him it seems to me.

Moreover,  when it comes to the bit about how "Dōgen's enemies despised him not for what he was teaching..." this needs a bit of unpacking because it's a bit oblivious to history.  Dōgen lived during the Kamakura shogunate.  The "official" Buddhism during that period was originally Tendai Buddhism, but Shingon Buddhism was also in Japan for quite a while as well.  However, as Wikipedia helpfully points out, during the Kamakura period other schools started to flourish as well, and the Zen schools arose in part from the Tendai school. 

Moreover, the Tendai school during this time was politically connected to the Shogunate, so naturally Dōgen (as well as Nichiren) wouldn't fare well challenging the status quo, especially, in Dōgen's case, because Zen would challenge the ecosystem wherein Tendai Buddhism was accommodationist with respect to Shinto.  Which is another way of saying it wasn't Dōgen's confidence that was the issue,  but rather the status quo, and Dōgen being the "nail that sticks out."

Next though, let's get to the main point of the quoted text: Is Japanese Zen "in decline?"  I don't know about Soto Zen, other than to say that at Sengakuji, they only have sitting for lay people once a month, and if you go to Sengakuji during a weekday, you'll find that most of the visitors are older people (because, duh, people are working during the day generally).  I'm also told it's a place to go for school field trips. Yet if you go during a weekend, you'll find that yes, there are younger people there. 

(A similar dynamic exists in Chinese temples whether they're more Pure Land or more Zen, though I don't know if schools have field trips to them; I sort of doubt they do.)

As for my recent visit to Engakuji, as I wrote elsewhere,  there were scores of practitioners, many beginners on the Sunday on which I visited.   That temples like Engakuji are also tourist meccas makes it somewhat wrong to me to conclude that Rinzai Zen is dying out in Japan faster than the decline of population of Japan in general (though that's a serious issue.)

And to me, the very question of the "decline of Zen in Japan" is irrelevant.  Why oh why, in a practice which purports to be one "not founded on words and letters, but pointing directly to one's mind," is so much verbiage spent on "whether they're doing it well," and "is it in decline?"  It seems to me to go there in thought is to self-confirm the decline itself! 

Moreover, even though the narrative of Zen in America as a reboot of "real" Japanese Zen, was definitely a narrative that was used,  it seems to have been problematic to even make that narrative as it was a bit of a case of adding another head to one's own.

I don't entirely disagree with Franz, but I would offer that the way Rinzai Zen has evolved in Japan (and its presence in Korea as well) has been "tuned" so that this non-reliance on words and letters and direct pointing to the mind is kind of baked into the practices in my experience, despite the variations from temple to temple and school to school.

Don't get me wrong; there are indeed mediocre oshos in Zen schools, and there are still the real history of scandals in the US, especially in Rinzai Zen in the US.  But that doesn't indicate a "decline of Zen practice" in either Japan or the US. (For some reason, probably because it's an example of what I'm trying to point out, but for whatever reason I want to note that although I didn't understand the teisho given at Engakuji except for words here and there, the osho who gave it gave it in such a way that various sections of it were chanted, and done with great energy.)

With regard to Ueda-san's piece, yes, there's such a thing as Funeral Buddhism in Japan, and because of Funeral Buddhism, there's a critical view of Japanese Buddhist clergy amongst Japanese.  That is definitely true.  But that's more an issue with Japanese culture than Japanese Buddhism actually.  There is so much that Japanese culture has evolved through that they've kind of forgotten how Japanese Buddhism - and Japanese Zen Buddhism in particular informs their culture.  And in those areas I'd cite: 

  • The way Japanese use personal space - and space in general - compared to other cultures
  • The way in which Japanese language tends to avoidance of conflict, and promotion of the "flow" of conversation
  • The continued existence of Japanese arts related to Zen

But at the same time there have been trends in their culture that have stifled growth (via excessive bureaucracy)  and trivialized aspects about life.  There's a place for trivializing aspects of life, of course.   But the kind of thing I'm trying to talk about here you can see at Sengakuji: Lord Asano's death was avenged by having his antagonist's head placed upon his grave at Sengakuji.  In the museum you can see the receipt they got for giving back his head.   Even then, Japanese culture required receipts for such things. 

In addition, I should note that Funeral Buddhism in Japan is closely tied to the Confucian notions of family;  families having ancestral burial grounds going back ten generations is not unheard of, to say the least, so that kind of bakes in a necessity of Funeral Buddhism culturally.

And finally, all of that said, we in America, whether convert Buddhist or Buddhists by ethnic heritage have our own problems, and one answer to those problems is to transmit Buddhism with and without words in our daily lives.

It's very difficult as Japanese might say, but still must be attempted because of endemic suffering.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Back in the USA, and my trip to 円覚寺

I'm happy to be back here.  

I'm also glad I finally got to visit Engakuji (円覚寺) - "circle awakening temple,"  which is one of the head temples of Rinzai shu.  I have photographs on my phone, and will try to update this based on those photos.

I sat in a Sunday morning zazenkai (座禅会) ("zazen meeting").  It was fascinating, in that the zafus are the smallest zafus I have ever seen in a temple. They're about 12"x8"x1" and rectangular.  In their instructions in zazen they did not mention the possibility of sitting seiza, which was kind of strange.  I was a bit concerned about whether or not it was OK to do that, especially since because of my knee surgery a couple of years ago there are certain positions my legs just don't do anymore, and among them was sitting in full or half lotus positions on a 1" high zafu.

It was kind of a koan in and of itself.

I was not the only one either;  of the approximately 80 or so people there, perhaps only 15 or 20 of them could actually sit in the half or full lotus position.  The rest of the folk, like me, could not get both knees on the floor, even using the Burmese position.  Naturally there was quite a bit of movement, but no remonstrations against it.

That's the way it was for the first 40 minutes of the service, through the osho's teisho.  

Luckily after the teisho we re-arranged ourselves for sitting, and my thought was "The hell with it.  I'm going to sit in the seiza position. (I think the guy in front of me had the same idea.)  So that I did, with zafu between my legs and butt. During the sitting period the osho wielded the keisaku, which might have been off-putting to my Japanese colleague who  accompanied me.

But here's the thing about zen and sitting with other people.  Even though it's Engakuji, even though I'd never been to the temple before, I could tell the osho's use of the keisaku was skillful - it was done exactly the same way as in my home temple.   It's a bit of why I also take issue with some of the Soto boasts I see from time to time. (Sorry Brad Warner, I appreciate the dialogue, but your take on koan practice isn't as good as someone with deeper experience in the practice.)  You see, one thing I've learned over the years is that sanzen happens all the time at a zazenkai, not just formally in the sanzen room.  Sanzen happens during kinhin; it happens during sitting; it happens during chanting.  All those things are a kind a koan being worked on and being observed by the sangha, something is transmitted, and yeah, even with the chanting there isn't such a great reliance on words and letters.  Therefore you can go from one temple to another and "see" the transmission take place.  Even when the chanting isn't done like it's done in your temple, there's still the same transmission taking place.

Unfortunately Engakuji's cemetery was off limits to tourists and outsiders, so I wasn't able to see the graves of Shaku Soen and Ms. Alexander Russell. 

Friday, April 01, 2016

Interesting exchange

I kind of ignored the bit where Brad Warner got to talking about physics. But I did have to question his bit of 只管打坐 versus 公案 座禅. I also think that the idea that 公案 座禅 is "sudden" enlightenment versus leads some in the 曹洞宗 - at least its American version - to mischaracterize 公案 座禅.  That point can't be overstated: "Sudden" enlightenment via 公案 座禅 takes a while, where "while" can often be measured in years. 

Also, unfortunately 道元 and his 公案 didn't make it into the discussion. 

I think the entire exchange though eventually settled into a discussion equivalent to those concerning whether licorice tastes good or not.  That's too bad because I think the very process of 座禅 and in my case 公案 座禅 is pretty essential to trying to get through life. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Buddhist Geeks: Buddhist? Tech savvy?

I want to expand on some of the points made in my last post about Buddhist Geeks.   I think that it's important to propagate some of the issues that have been seen with them that are continuing.   Here they are in a nutshell:

  • Much of Buddhist Geeks' "geekiness" - which I'd take to be tech savviness - just isn't there.   There's a lot of buzzwords associated with what they do,  but they don't have the chops.   They just don't. 
  • Much of Buddhist Geeks' "Buddhism" - which I'd take to be more of a buffet restaurant approach to Buddhism -  is superficial.   There's a lot of buzzwords associated with what they do, but I don't see the chops.
  • I think I've said this before, but they come across as highly provincial.   That is to say, they are of a particular time and place formed much by being part of an "officially" promoted "younger generation of Buddhists."  Well, here of course "officially" means various enterprises such as Tricycle and what used to be called Shambhala Sun.  So the  "offically" part  is tongue in cheek, a bit of snark, for  that once upon a time when some folks at Tricycle and elsewhere figured out that a) younger people were tech savvy, and b) there was a younger generation of Buddhists although c) that seemed to be declining. 
  • The focus on Buddhist Geeks "curating" promotion of research into awareness and consciousness - or being a filter between the two areas is troublesome in its own right.  To the extent that this research is valuable as research, having a group of fairly amateur Buddhists promoting it does little good either for Buddhism or the research itself.
    • And their association with folks such as Charles Tart is really a concern.   If I were an awareness/neuroscience researcher I'd think twice about propagating my work through the Buddhist Geeks venue.  In fact, I'd be hesitant to promote Buddhism through that venue as well.
  • To what extent is "Geekiness" in Buddhist Geeks an erasure of the culture, skill, and wisdom of the Asian traditions?  I remember Arun the Angry Asian Buddhist was pointing out the lack of Asian representatives in Buddhist Geeks media, but I think  we have to pay attention to the balance of what in Buddhist Geeks is there instead of the culture, skill, and wisdom of Asian traditions (which are emerging just fine in Asia, thank you very much). 
    • Take Daniel Ingram.  Please.  According to that last link,  Ingram has become "part of the global movement of meditation reform, a movement that seeks to preserve core meditation technology and supports, integrate helpful aspects from across traditions, refine the techniques and maps through exploration and verification, and spread the message that it can be done. It is also a movement to strip away the aspects of dogma, ritual, rigid hierarchy, myth and falsehood that hinder high-level practice and keep the culture of meditation mired in unhelpful taboos and misplaced effort."  Daniel Ingram is the erasure of Asian cultural references from Westernized Buddhism under the pretext of "strip[ping] away the aspects of dogma, ritual, rigid hierarchy, myth and falsehood that hinder high-level practice and keep the culture of meditation mired in unhelpful taboos and misplaced effort."
      • I know I've mentioned this guy in the past, but I think in some ways this guy is as troublesome as Genpo Merzel, another guy who has been known to do erasure for money with questionable consequences.  Most importantly, Ingram seems to be chasing after certain states of mind; that should raise a red flag right there. 
  • Also, when it comes to technology they're pretty narrow.   Are the Geeks concerned with technologies to save the environment? To feed people? To give them shelter? To make people healthier? To determine how to translate Buddhist ideals, ethics and awareness into everyday life? To reduce the harmful effects of wealth inequality? To crack the problem of creating technology for environmentally sustainable production of agarwood
  • Also, when it comes to Buddhism, they're pretty narrow.  Are the Geeks concerned with pro bono applications of Buddhism and technology?  That's a serious question; they seem to be rather tied to maintaining the status quo in terms of inequity of wealth, despite (and because) they are a "for benefit" corporation. (That's because there's technology in the form of the Prisoner's Dilemma.)  But beyond right conduct (that's part of Buddhism you know, I read that somewhere) are they concerned with Buddhist texts? 
Whom am I to say this?

When it comes to the "convergence of Buddhism, technology, and global culture" or whatever some folks call it,  I have some experience in that area.

I have a rather strong technical background, and I've alluded to that quite a few times over the history of this little blog.  If you go to my linkedin page or search for me on the USPTO website, you'll note that there are many patents of which I'm an inventor.  Let me just say this about that, as Richard Nixon might never have said:  I have, in my work,  not only done a very significant amount of technical research, these days I have a reasonable amount of control over what research gets funded. And that spans a pretty wide gamut.

Moreover, when there's all this breathless hype (hopefully it is dying out) about "mindfulness" and "meditation" and tech folks,  I kind of yawn.   You have to go at this stuff for decades.   And some of the folks that may be themselves off as teachers just haven't paid their dues, and yeah, you generally have to pay your dues if you want to sing the blues about the Dharma, metaphorically speaking.  Otherwise, you might be more or less a dilettante who might be unintentionally embarrassing yourself. 

Global culture? Let's just say that when you watch CNN International, I'm their target demographic.

As for my own Buddhist credentials, I think I'm a rather poor representative despite the couple of decades plus I've put into the endeavor, which is to say you could easily find better examples of Buddhists with Buddhist accomplishment.  That said, talking about Zen Buddhism in terms of computer science terms really trivializes not only Zen and its associated meditation, but, in my view, Buddhism itself.

It would be nice to see Buddhist Geeks actually address some of these issues, but I am not optimistic they will.   As I wrote before, they think they carved out a brand space for some kind of convergence of Buddhism and technology.  But you know who else thought that? Frederick Lenz.  (I know it's a form of Godwin's Law, which really isn't a law, especially when we have folks that look a lot like fascists running for president.)   But many of the same complaints lodged against Lenz could conceivably be lodged against Buddhist Geeks, although that they're less of a harmful cult than Lenz's gig, but  where I come from, misspent opportunities because of opportunity costs being paid to questionable endeavors is harmful.  We don't live forever.

To sum up though, I don't think Buddhism and technology mean what they think those terms mean.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Alienation from the Buddhist Blogosphere...

Obviously, because I haven't been blogging much lately other stuff has filled the time; some good, some not so good.  Lately though I've been doing more on my practice, and I'm looking at some of the old Buddhist blogosphere haunts.

I don't plan on linking to others, or even mentioning some of them by name.  But here's some stuff:

  • What happened to  Oh, he went to of course, and then is likely on a hiatus or working outside the blogosphere.   Good for him! I have to add editing this blog structure on my to-do list. 
  • Tricycle just keeps getting weirder and weirder.   I think Tricycle is in large measure responsible for the commoditization of mindfulness.  
  • Buddhist Geeks.   Is this still a thing?   Regardless,  the folks there keep putting stuff out there, and are evidently into "branding" Buddhist Geeks as some kind of technically hip form of "American" Buddhism.  Buddhist Geeks is tempting me to re-title and perhaps re-purpose this blog as "Old School Zen," or perhaps "May True Dharma Continue."  The reason I am tempted is that so much of Buddhist Geeks appears to be irrelevant to the project of Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism.  To put it another way, trying to express Buddhist meditation practice using the memes of computer programming, is just a more constrained form of scratching one's foot through one's shoe.  Ditto for meditation research.  I think the proprietors of Buddhist Geeks have good intentions.  But I also think that "Old School" Zen practices are what they are because they've evolved over centuries to be that way.   There are some aspects to those practices that might seem out of step with Western culture, but, so what?  I think it's a valid question to raise: Can those aspects of  "Old School" Zen practices really be ported over to modern, Western ways of practice without reference to the benefits and characteristics of "Old School" practice? (And either way, why or why not is that bad cultural appropriation?) That seems to be a topic largely unexplored in Western Zen and Western Buddhism in general, except in regards to concerns about decolonialization (which is kind of strange if we're talking about Japanese Zen, in a multitude of directions).   As an example, the relationship between Zen and the deepest meaning of kung fu is pretty much wide open territory. 
    • Also they should put more transcripts in.  Reading is often a quicker way of assimilating information. 
  • "Engaged" Buddhism:  I used to do that on this blog, and wouldn't forswear doing it again.  But in this political season, I've posted those opinions copiously elsewhere, especially in places that aren't a Western Buddhist echochamber.  Yeah, we have one too.   But that aside, I'm coming to think there's more useful "Old School" Zen Buddhist things to write about than politics, except, perhaps, where somebody's trying to hijack progressive politics one way or another, in a way that doesn't bring everyone along.   Or when, out of political considerations, one wants to call charlatans such as Frederick Lenz or Li Hongzhi Buddhists. 
    • That said, I also think it's extremely useful to explore the issues of ethnicity and race in Western American Buddhism.   Too much of it comes across as the Buddhist equivalent of P.F. Chang's, or, alternatively, like one must completely reflexively abandon from Asian paradigms.  That also impinges on my "Old School" writing inclinations.
  • Kōans:  I've seen a nonsensical site wherein some guy purported to give "answers" to kōans, which completely, and totally misses the entire point of kōans!
  • Sweeping Zen:  A while back Adam Tebbe was rather, um, characteristic of himself at the time toward me, regarding the scandals at the time of Eido Shimano and Joshu Sasaki.   I believe the point of contention involved lots of questions about how Buddhists might respond to the situations presented by Shimano and Sasaki, and to what extent Sweeping Zen might be "tabloidizing" these scandals.  My understanding is that Mr. Tebbe was in a better place these days, and his blog kind of reflects it, though it is a bit Sōtō heavy.  But they have Genjō Marinello on there, and the Kwan Um folks, so lately it's been more or less OK.   That said, I still think the whole affair points to, yes, sick Zen authorities that abused their power flowing with a whole goulash of Orientalism, misunderstanding about the Dharma, and harmful innocence in the sense that Rollo May indicated. And I still agree with Brad Warner about Myoan Grace Schireson. I also still agree with him on the futility of standardized certification of Zen teachers beyond one's own teacher or tradition. 
  • MOOC-derived/On line/Cloud-based sanghas:  It might be helpful for people to practice where there are no "teachers" or temples around, and it might be useful to rank beginners, but eventually you must come face to face with someone.

So I guess yeah, there's some alienation from what the Buddhist blogosphere is these days on my part, though if anyone knows of any blogs that address some of the points above that I'm not currently following,  please let me know!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Deepak Chopra, stop Hindu-splaining for Buddhists...

Really this:

Especially this:

"Why don't Buddhists believe in God? Is it that the Buddha never had the experience of knowing God? I was praying for God to reveal himself (or herself or????) and a real voice spoke to me (a man's voice) and said "You have found me but have yet to find yourself". I took that to be an experience of God. "

... should have been answered by, "Ask a Buddhist." 

But you didn't do that.

Instead, you wrote:

"Buddha certainly had direct experience of the source reality of existence, but he chose to speak of this reality as impersonal emptiness because in order to be understood he needed to break free of the religious confusion of the time. But this core reality of consciousness can be explained either in personal terms or impersonal terms. And Tibetan Buddhism does of course incorporate a strongly personal interpretation of the Divine."

Which kind of just highlights the fact that you, Deepak Chopra, don't have a clue about what at least some Mahayana Buddhists refer to as emptiness.

Now I realize that post is a couple of months old from "Dr." Chopra, but on the other hand, I found it by searching on Facebook for "Tibetan" and "Revealed."  There is a plethora of "spiritual" bilge that arises from that search.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Practicing Buddhist meditation IS serious stuff, but on the other hand...

Yeah, if you're doing 座禅 and you're feeling bad experiences, do seek counseling, and do cultivate your practice with people that know what they're doing.  And corporations shouldn't really be involved in this, has has been said so many times.  On the other hand, when I see stories like this one,  well, comments must be made...

Farias looked at the research into unexpected side-effects. A 1992 study by David Shapiro, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, found that 63% of the group studied, who had varying degrees of experience in meditation and had each tried mindfulness, had suffered at least one negative effect from meditation retreats, while 7% reported profoundly adverse effects including panic, depression, pain and anxiety. Shapiro’s study was small-scale; several research papers, including a 2011 study by Duke University in North Carolina, have raised concerns at the lack of quality research on the impact of mindfulness, specifically the lack of controlled studies.

OF COURSE you won't have all unicorns and rainbows from practicing mindfulness, because one's own suffering is among the things which might come into one's awareness when one is cultivating awareness.

Also "guided" meditations aren't the same thing as what one generally encounters in Zen/Cha'n temples. It's never been clear to me how "guided" meditations are associated with mindfulness. It's telling though that no legit Zen person seems to have been quoted in the article.
The idea that mindfulness is harmful,  "in general" is of course ridiculous.  It's not a stretch to say that whole disciplines in the arts, athletics,  and yes, even product design owe their existence to people practicing mindfulness. 

Some people have suffered greatly,  and this suffering can and does come up in practice.   But that suffering often is also a catalyst for great compassion and wisdom;  secular psychologists admit that.

But know what you're dealing with and what you're getting into. Stay away from hucksters, be they spiritual, corporate, or just plain hucksters.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

There's historical context for this...

I'd like to be able to read it someday. From what little I've read of excerpts of translations on-line, 鈴木 anticipated many of the arguments against Christian apologists made by later. Thankfully, 鈴木 put some furigana in the text, but as the text goes on, I think it becomes less and less helpful.

But I can't get past the first sentence. I can make out "でうす,” (Deus) which was how 鈴木 referred to the Christian god.

There's historical context as to why a Zen monk came to write such a polemic, but I don't feel like going into it at the moment...

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Light in the strangest of places...

In our relatively local news there's a story about some folks affiliated with the Dharma Rain Center who are doing a prison ministry at Pendleton, OR, teaching inmates how to mediate.  I think it's good that people teach people how to do meditation from a zen perspective, but a) I'm not sure the "teaching" gets transmitted well, and b) sometimes I'm not sure the teachers' teachers got good teaching.  Here's a couple of issues I had with the article, and again, I think it's great what Joe Engum is doing; I just think sometimes things get lost in translation, even if everyone's speaking the same language...

Zen Buddhism is not a belief system or religion, Engum said, but it requires followers to meditate, which Engum described as a method for self-observation or to understand personal experience... 

“You can’t taste the food by reading the recipe,” he said. “You have to do the practice.”... 

The prison groups also discuss meditation and the book they are reading, “The Way of Liberation” by Adyashanti.

If you see my comments on the link you'll see that I give a counter-position to the idea that "Zen Buddhism is not a religion."   I don't know where people get that idea, but I think it's one of the worst sales pitches - and it is a kind of sales pitch - that religious salesmen try.  Zen/Chan Buddhism especially has a really, really long history of being a religion. 

This is the kind of thing I mean when I point out that much of what passes for American convert Buddhism isn't all that aware of what the heck's been going on in the rest of the world. 

I also point out that you'd be hard pressed to find a large number of kōans (公案) where the subject of the 公案 takes place during meditation, and you'll be especially hard pressed to find in many  公案 where an awakening experience takes place during meditation, with Shakyamuni Buddha sort of the major exception that proves the rule.   Zen Buddhist practice involves a great deal of mindfulness, but not necessarily meditation as such.  (And as "Zen" it might arguably not even involve that...)


Also,  the food and recipe thing.  "A picture of a rice cake does not satisfy hunger" is such a famous Zen saying that it's was even lampooned by Monty Python decades ago.   But even this idea - as an idea - has its limits.  Lemon juice! Think of it, and you'll salivate.  Preparation of food sometimes does involve "tasting" or being aware of taste as one is reading the recipe.  I may be being churlish here, but I think what was meant was, "You can't satisfy hunger by reading the recipe," and even that might not be an absolute.  (This also reminds me of what I was trying to say regarding 行雲流水流水, which, as 書道, can "flow" even though it's "dry.")  Which is all another way of saying that slogans have their limits.

Finally, Adyashanti.  He's one of those guys who goes around saying he's enlightened, if I'm interpreting his Wikipedia article correctly, though I can't find that on his web site.  I have concerns - to use business-speak - about this guy.  My concerns are something along the lines of "reified guru."  This guy plays the part of guru.  For example:

...It is good to remember that the goal of Buddhism is to create Buddhas, not Buddhists, as the goal of Christianity is to create Christs, not Christians. In the same vein, my teachings are not meant to acquire followers or imitators, but to awaken beings to eternal truth and thus to awakened life and living.

To serve this intention my teaching has been, and continues to be, in a constant state of renewal. As more and more of my students come into the deeper realms of spiritual adulthood, so too does the expression of the teachings evolve to address and clarify the deeper reaches of spirituality. I find that as time goes on I can touch upon more subtle and challenging aspects of spiritual awakening as those who come to see me become more established in the deeper aspects of spiritual realization. It is this spontaneous dance and interplay between teacher and student that breathes new life into our shared exploration and expression of truth.
This guy is not a man of no rank.  Keep that in mind. 

 I have tried to document on this blog how blogging by a Zen Buddhist with a technical background might transpire.   As I have continued my practice, there has still been craziness in my family, work place, and elsewhere.  Dukkha's still there.  I did this a while back somewhere and am too lazy to go find it, but it's an interesting contrast if you look at Mr. Adyashanti's beatific countenance and compare it to a Lin-ji, or even a Dogen, not to mention a Bodhidharma.  Mr. Adyashanti is not a man of no rank.

My point is, real people practicing real Zen Buddhism don't usually sport that beatific countenance. The ones I know come as close as contented forbearance, and if you think I'm judging by appearances to much, please try to understand that this "beyond words and letters" thing about Zen takes everything - including words and letters - into account.  Including what's on one's face.  There's more to your true face before your parents were born besides an expression of "bliss."

That's not to say that there aren't things that Mr. Adyashanti is saying and writing that could help people.   Again, I think the folks who are doing that prison meditation ministry are definitely helping folks.   Sometimes you can get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right, as the song goes.

Apropos of all the above, I think I will try to start a new series related to Hui Neng, The Transmission of the Lamp,  and the Platform Sutra.  And maybe some Lin-ji too.   I think it would be more illuminating that Mr. Adyashanti's stuff anyway, and all I'd ask is if motivated,  see what my advertisers have to say, and when that big fat check from Google comes 'round,  I'll donate most of it to a good cause.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

行雲流水, Clouds, Water, movement, flow and culture...

行雲流水、in Japanese represented as  "こううんりゅうすい" has the characters for "going" or "moving", "clouds," "flow" and water, read from up to down with the right column first.  More or less literally meaning "clouds move, water flows" it's taken as idiomatic as "go with the flow" or "going with the tide" according to on-line translations, more or less, but that's I think a bit superficial.  Oh, and the Chinese version of the translation of 行雲流水 has "fill the gap" or something like that.

Also I think Wikipedia's entry here is a bit superficial and contradictory (as I'll show in in a bit):

Unsui (Japanese雲水), or kōun ryūsui (行雲流水) in full, is a term specific to Zen Buddhism which denotes a postulant awaiting acceptance into a monastery or anovice monk who has undertaken Zen training. Sometimes they will travel from monastery to monastery (angya) on a pilgrimage to find the appropriate Zen master to study with.[1]
The term unsui, which literally translates as "cloud, water" comes from a Chinesepoem which reads, "To drift like clouds and flow like water."[2] Helen J. Baroni writes, "The term can be applied more broadly for any practitioner of Zen, since followers of Zen attempt to move freely through life, without the constraints and limitations ofattachment, like free-floating clouds or flowing water."[1] According to author James Ishmael Ford, "In Japan, one receives unsui ordination at the beginning of formal ordained practice, and this is often perceived as 'novice ordination.'"[3]

Then again,  there's this Chinese tea ceremony thing that uses the same term.   Which is why I think there's a bit of contradiction there.  I realize I might be more than slightly out of my depth here as I try to find the original poem from which 行雲流水 comes. That is to say, although I think  I can find the original poem from which 行雲流水 comes,  my knowledge of Chinese is pitifully poor to the point where there's no reasonable way I could put 行雲流水 in proper Chinese context at this point.   Maybe in 10 years...

The version of 行雲流水 that comes down to us as in Wikipedia is like a replica of a replica of a replica of something that was in a Chinese poem once. 

But that's only part of why I think the conventional "explanations" of 行雲流水 are a bit superficial...

First of all, 行雲流水 is meant to be put into 書道 (or 書法 if you prefer the Chinese term). 行雲流水  begs to be expressed as 書道.   See, unlike, say, Magritte's famous  not-a-pipe picture,  or the Zen expression "a picture of a rice cake does not satisfy hunger," 行雲流水 as 書道 is almost perfectly non-dually expressing flow without flowing, if executed even minimally competently. Or to put it another way, if you want to do 行雲流水 minimally competently, you have to express 行雲流水  in 行雲流水 .

I would love to have help finding the poem which gave fame to 行雲流水, and understand it.  But in the mean time, realize this is a bigger deal than you'll get in Wikipedia.