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 dannyfisher.org?  Oh, he went to Patheos.com 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. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

He's sort of got a point...

In my own life, right at this very second, I have a handful of regrets. In two cases that come to mind as I write this, I did something wrong to someone and later apologized and made efforts to right those wrongs. In both cases the people who I have wronged responded by trying to use my admission of wrongdoing as a way to leverage more guilt from me and to demand that I do more to compensate them. In both cases, they have not made any specific requests or have made requests they know I can’t fulfill, thus making it impossible to comply. I have to assume this is deliberate even if it’s being done unconsciously. This allows them to continue to feel I owe them something and to resent me for it.* 
I only understand this strategy because I have used it myself. Which is something else I regret. Whenever I see myself pursuing this strategy these days I immediately stop. Which is how I deal with that particular species of regret. 
In these specific cases, there’s simply nothing more I can do. At least nothing I can come up with. It’s clear that becoming further entangled in the drama these individuals are seeking to perpetuate won’t help anything. So my only strategy is to stay out of the drama.

It's excellent advice: Stay out of the drama.  There's been instances in my life where I've done wrong. Too often one's wrongdoing and one's admission of wrongdoing make for power-play dynamics - we see that in everything from the criminal justice system to failed relationships.  And yes, I've played that game too, and like Ven. Warner says, becoming further entangled, continuing to play the game - it never ends well. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

These folks are, um, people with severe problems...

I just came across this bit on that Integral place, based on my wondering "What ever happened to Andrew Cohen?"

Now you should know that I asked the question because I truly didn't know.  We go through the internet in phases.  Andrew Cohen was about 2 phases ago.

To this bit I had the following thought: "NO NO NO!!!":

In spiritual circles there is a lack of agreement on what is positively meant by enlightenment on the one hand and ego on the other hand. There exists, however, a consensus on what enlightenment and ego mean in a negative sense. Enlightenment, so goes the general agreement, is what the ego is not and vice versa. Someone who is enlightened has transcended the ego. Someone who is still immersed in his ego, is not enlightened. 

I'm not quite sure what a spiritual circle is, but I do know that what I would not call awakening in some way equivalent elimination of the ego.  I think you're stuck with that.  Do your best.  And be humble about it.

Meanwhile, I found out about Andrew Cohen, at least as far as May of this year.  Seems a bit narcissistic.

I have to work on that myself...

But,  Tathagata, what does Andrew Cohen do with himself from now?  Geez, the man's in his 50s and his "spiritual" enterprise has gone kaput.  Have some compassion for him, but don't follow him would be my humble offering of advice.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Yes, Falun Da Fa is a Dangerous Cult. We shouldn't refrain from using those words.

In the past few days, two ideas  have come to me that merit blogposts in this all too infrequently updated Buddhist blog.  The first concerns the "Adverse Childhood Experiences" (ACE) studies I only now read about.  I have to write a significant post on that - the ideas that ACE triggers provide so many answers to so many questions, both personally and yes, globally.   But suffice it to say, there are reasons why we're all wounded in heart/mind that are pretty powerful, and make all of us responsible. 

It also makes a mockery of some of the more moralistic behavior we've seen in the Buddhist convert community.  Everything sticks on everything else like flypaper though.   

But sometimes things have to be said, and that brings me to my second big topic, which I'll write about today.  This topic is the fact that the organizers of this year's Portland Buddhist Festival (PBF) included Falun Da Fa  (aka Falun Gong).   To cut to the chase: The organizers of the Portland Buddhist Festival should not have included Falun Da Fa in their list of participating groups.   I was rather surprised that they did, given the inclination not to accept money from the Frederick Lenz Foundation.  Not surprisingly as well, there was a notable lack of real, actual Chinese Buddhist temples represented at the PBF.   That's probably the result of a confluence of things for which we're all responsible. 

I won't go into great detail in this post the reactions I got when I spoke to one of the organizers about my concerns about Falun Da Fa, other than to note that the person I spoke to was quite defensive, and took umbrage at the words "dangerous cult" as some sort of hate speech.  To her credit, though, the organizer admitted a lack of knowledge about Falun Da Fa.  

Well, I figured a post like this ought to make readers aware of what Falun Da Fa actually is.  First of all, compared to Frederick Lenz's cult (and I won't refrain from the use of that word either for Lenz's group or Falun Da Fa), it's huge.  In addition to its regular activities, it publishes the Epoch Times  and is the force behind that Shen Yun traveling show.   It appears in this way to be a bit like Scientology, in that there are several "coordinating" organizations which don't officially advertise as Falun Da Fa (or Falun Gong) but essentially are.

Now, I'd like to borrow some bits from the Rational Wiki page on Falun Gong, after which I'm going to go right to the source of course of course, and show you what Falun Da Fa actually says about itself.   If you think this is Buddhism in any way, well you don't know Buddhism. 

Anyway,  according to sources referenced by the Rational Wiki,  Falun Gong:

  • Regarding Falung Gong founder:
    Li Hongzhi claims to have miraculous powers. He claims that he is the savior of humanity, who has come to the earth to "rectify" the way and prevent "true" spiritual teachings from being lost. He claims that ancient Chinese knowledge is far superior to current teachings.[20] His propagandists are known for hijacking reprints of Buddhist texts and inserting him as the "Main Buddha of the Universe".
  • According to the Wiki: 

    An idea that once was prominent in Chinese Falun Gong is Yuan Man or "Consummation/Full Circle"[27], a state related to Moksha but not very specific. (Mis)Intepretation by low-level Falun Gong instructor and missionaries often blends this idea into the more indigenous notion of an afterlife, so self-flagellation from removal of palatine uvula to ritual suicides are not uncommon even a few years after the crackdown. Today, it is redefined after the more sane Moksha.

  • The Chinese government is apparently not so concerned with banning Falun Da Fa's materials, because, quite frankly, as we'll see, they  kind of refute themselves.  In fact, Falun Gong's "uncensored teachings are openly ridiculed by Chinese forum-goers and have given birth to the meme of calling any trend or popular thing a 大法 (or "Great Law"), combined with a ballad formatted after Falun Gong poems attacking the Chinese government. A collection of 'Great Law' copypasta can be viewed here."

So what do the Chinese people know, that the organizers of the Portland Buddhist Festival didn't know besides what's on the rational Wiki (and the Great Law of Google Chrome, evidently)?


Falun Dafa involves the cultivation of a Falun, or “law wheel.” The Falun is an intelligent, rotating entity composed of high-energy matter. The Falun that Master Li Hongzhi plants in a practitioner’s lower abdomen from other dimensions rotates constantly, twenty-four hours a day. (True cultivators can acquire a Falun by reading Master Li’s books, watching his 9-session lectures on video, listening to his 9-session lectures on audiocassette, or studying together with students of Falun Dafa.) The Falun helps practitioners to practice automatically. That is, the Falun refines the practitioner at all times, even though he or she isn’t performing the exercises at every moment. Of all practices made public in the world today, only Falun Dafa has managed to achieve a state in which, “the Fa refines the person.”

This is what they're saying about themselves!  You can get an "intelligent rotating entity" planted in your "lower abdomen from other dimensions"  by "reading Master Li's books, watching his 9-session lectures on video or studying together with students of Falun Dafa."

We Buddhists ought to be about transcending greed, hatred, and ignorance, which doesn't involve having intelligent rotating entities planted in our bellies from other dimensions.   Of course some of our practices involve the cultivation of 気, but that's something we cultivate ourselves, and is intimately related with the focus of awareness, with that which is within. 

The Fa I’m imparting today is immense—it can allow you all to reach different realms and levels through cultivation. This is by no means a small thing. A Fa this enormous has been introduced to the public, but if it couldn’t change people or couldn’t make people’s morality elevate again, then it wouldn’t matter whether it was taught or not. I know that since this Fa is the Truth and the Law of the cosmos, it will definitely have a tremendous impact on cultivators. So, every one of us knows what to do, and there’s no need for me to tell you specifically how to conduct yourselves.

Because practitioners of Falung Gong are only able to do what they do because of Li Hongzhi.  Now I'm not big on Tibetan Buddhism, but even the Dalai Lama doesn't talk this way.  This is guru sickness through and through.

But wait, there's more from that last link:

Back in the days when Buddha Sakyamuni was teaching his Dharma* there were over a hundred precepts. It’s said that Mahayana Buddhism now has over two hundred precepts. The purpose [of precepts] is to restrict you, and make you meet the standard and act accordingly. We don’t have any precepts today—we’re completely open. We don’t pay attention to any form, and instead we only look at people’s hearts and minds. That’s because our Fa has such mighty power. Also, from another perspective, no form manifest in ordinary human society is worthy of this Dafa. That’s why we have truly adopted a way suitable for spreading Dafa. What way is it? It is a “great way without form.” (Applause) We really have taken a “great way without form,” and only that truly fits our Dafa. So that’s how we have gone about things since I taught the Fa in the early days.

Li Hongzhi claims in that speech that he "chose to live overseas so as not to cause problems for the government."   Really? He's sparing the Chinese government problems by choosing to live overseas? Even if you attribute the worst of behavior to the Chinese government (and I'm not going to defend the Chinese government here), what sort of idea is Li trying to give his followers? 

OK, that was in 1998, although it's clearly not been refuted and is readily available on the Falung Gong website.   Here's something more recent:

You have read in Zhuan Falun that there are eighty-four thousand cultivation disciplines in the Buddhist System and thirty-six hundred cultivation disciplines in the Daoist System. In fact, that was said from the vantage point of a very small level, that is the understanding at a certain level, and it was taught only to the extent that human beings could comprehend. You know, there are Buddhas beyond Buddhas, there are Heavens beyond Heavens, and there are Gods beyond Gods. So how big is the cosmos? It is just boundlessly and endlessly immense. Having reached the point I have reached today in going about Fa-rectification, even though I am already taking care of the final matters, the most, most basic elements that make up the cosmos are gigantic beings that exist in such a way that even to the high-level beings in the cosmos they seem incomparably gigantic and unreachable, much less to humans. In other words, there are so many gigantic beings in the cosmos, and the gods all have their own ways of establishing themselves, and they all have Fa-principles that have formed based on their own understandings of the cosmos. Here I am using human language to describe it. Furthermore, there are also tens of millions of different, gigantic cosmic systems in the cosmos. And those gigantic systems are of course all experiencing the final Fa-rectification of the entire cosmos.

Think about this, if these gigantic systems are Gods, won't they wonder: "How is it you Buddhas are supposed to be better than us? You're teaching the Great Law of the Cosmos by way of Buddha Fa, and rectifying the entire cosmos with the Buddha Fa. But our system is not directly related to yours, so how could you Buddhas rectify our Fa here? How could the gods of your system direct things in our system? Are those Fa-rectification approaches of yours suitable for our system? We have completely different understandings about the ways in which lives are to exist, and many of our understandings are incompatible. What are we to make of how you come across? Given the incompatibility, how could you rectify our Fa?" The cosmos is incredibly complex and awfully immense, and there are huge differences in the ways that lives exist, think, and understand life. Human beings think human beings are pretty good, but some gods think, "Human beings walking down the street with their arms swinging to and fro are so ugly." (Audience laughs) "Look at my great wings and my lion-like body, it's so magnificent." (Audience laughs) And there are even greater disparities between our understandings of lives and those of the gods in the distant, gigantic systems. [They might say,] "What you think of as good and bad is different here, so how can Fa-rectification determine good and bad here, where we are?" The differences among the beings [themselves] are also huge. The Great Law that I am imparting is the fundamental Great Law of the Cosmos that encompasses all. It's just that the manifestation takes the form of Buddha images and Buddhist principles. They don't know about these things, and that is why they think that way.

It's really quite clear that Li Hongzhi doesn't exactly place his organization as a Buddhist organization, but rather something he views as superior to Buddhism, and as he says, not directly related to Buddhism.

So why are their followers going to Buddhist festivals and claiming to be Buddhist?  And why is the Portland Buddhist Festival giving these people a platform?    And when someone says "Great Law that I am imparting is the fundamental Great Law of the Cosmos ," shouldn't we give pause to consider whether the person saying that or not has reason to say so?  And if people are following such a person, should they not be helped? And if there are people giving out money to Li Hongzhi, isn't that enough of a harm? 

I myself have heard Li Hongzhi say that only he could profit from his teachings - meaning financially profit. You can read Chinese sources that say worse, but I'm conveying what I have heard personally. And I have heard that with a well known Chinese scholar who has recently produced an updated translation of the Tao Te Ching.  Li Hongzhi's own words show him to be teaching something that's hard to call Buddhism.   Inclusion of Falun Gong in a Buddhist festival was an embarrassment for the Portland Buddhist convert community. And if the organizers don't believe me, I entreat them to seek out Chinese Buddhists to get their view.  There's certainly enough of them in the Portland area.  I have been pretty deeply involved with various Asian communities for quite a few years now.  Is it really true that the European - descended US Buddhist convert community is so divorced from their Asian counterparts that they confuse Falun Gong with Chinese Buddhism? 

Addendum: The more I read about recent events surrounding this group the more appalled I am.  Here's a group led by a guy who's an obvious egomaniac, who has encouraged a regime that is often brutal to take actions that would clearly result in the regime called brutal to act brutal.  That's fairly dangerous. So yes, yes indeed the term "dangerous cult" is apt. It's also bad 功夫 - bad kung fu.  I'm also appalled that there are folks in the US who support this group, because "Chinese Communists".   Then again, it's a similar but even worse instance of the same logic applied to the Dalai Lama.   There's folks in the American Buddhist convert community who will respond with outright hostility when one mentions the Dalai Lama and his connections to the CIA and the economic issues associated with Tibet. 

Educate yourselves.