Friday, November 19, 2010

Not Both. Including/excluding Dogen, Hakuin, Sutras, Emptiness, Zazen

Many people come to Buddhist practice for many reasons. Some who come to Buddhist practice stay with the religious background of their cultural heritage.   Some, such as myself, take up some official affiliation with Buddhism as a religion - in my case,  jukai or shòu jiè  (受戒).   To those of us who have received the precepts, Buddhist practice as a religious practice might be considered as pursuing the Great Matter a bit more deeply than those who aren't near a stream, let alone those who haven't entered It.

The immediate ancestral temple of my practice is Ryobo Zen An  (両忘禅庵 ), which means "Forget Both Zen Cottage."  "Forget Both" indicates a concept of the practice of non-duality in all one's affairs.  It is a good place for the mind to be when the mind is trying to be mindful. Hakuin, the reviver of Rinzai practice in Japan was a guy who sat a lot of zazen each day; often for 2 hours or more when not in sesshin, when of course there was substantially more zazen.  But Hakuin emphasizes in his writings that the practice is in fact to be done all the time. It needs to permeate every nook and cranny and interstice of one's existence, it needs to be dissolved into the marrow of the bones. "It's got be in the blood," as my EE 102  professor said about his AC circuits  and systems teachings.

So with all  of the foregoing said, I do think there is a bit of over-emphasis on meditation practices in some of conversations in the Buddhist blogosphere.   (I'm ignoring the pop-Buddhist celebrity Buddhist stuff today here as well, but obviously you can contextualize that in terms of what I'm writing in this post as well.)  I find it interesting that I have some agreement with one Sulak Sivarkasa, who until today, I was not aware that he was an "engaged Buddhist."

In 1953, I went to London to study. In our family background, which was middle-class and upper-class, being educated in Britain meant that you were educated properly, and that could help you get ahead. England was the place to be. While I was in England, I joined the Buddhist Society. Mr. Christmas Humphreys, founder of the Society, was a very great man.
But I did not agree with his approach. His view was that a Buddhist must concentrate on meditation, even when they are part of the society. He said that Christian men are wrong because they got involved in society and politics and lost their spirituality. To be Buddhist, he argued, you must concentrate on meditation. I felt that he was fundamentally wrong. Meditation is a good thing, but it does not mean only looking inwards. I realized that many Buddhists were from middle-class backgrounds. They didn't realize the suffering of the majority of our people. They didn't even question their own lifestyles. I think that is escapism, not Buddhism.

Of course, then he goes into social action, and if your place in the world is there, practice.  But that's not what this post is primarily discussing, but rather the practice in the whole shebang of your life. All of it.  So when Brad Warner says

One of the comments under the last piece [in Warner's blog] referred obliquely to Nishijima's "very personal and particular interpretation of Dogen." I have to assume he means Nishijima's ideas about the fourfold logical structure of Shobogenzo. This way of reading Dogen isn't simply a personal bias, but the result of decades of working with the text.

Nishijima has written a very detailed explanation of this way of reading Shobogenzo, which is available as a free download at:

I'm glad he pointed me in that direction, but I must still dissent a bit.  I actually do read Dogen kind of the way Nishijima does (though for some reason the results of Dogen's teachings seem even now somewhat less "active" than that bald devil Hakuin.)  But when Nishijima says the following, and remember,  Nishijima is writing linearly here, not in the way of Dogen:

Here I would offer some advice. In order to study Master Dogen’s Buddhism, I think that it is very important to rely on his teachings completely. We must be very exact in our study. If we only immerse ourselves half-way, accepting some of his teachings, and criticizing others, it will become impossible to gain a full understanding of the complete philosophical system which he expounds.

Dogen is useful, and a historically great teacher and yes, even philosopher, but there's no point as I see necessarily being an apologist for Dogen if being an apologist for your practice  is not skillful towards your practice.  There is no point in swimming every day if it is not useful for your practice.  While I personally think Hakuin has been a more profound and influential teacher in my life, and my teachers' lives, I cannot find it useful to be an apologist for everything Hakuin did. Nor, for that my matter, my teachers.  And I don't expect them to be apologists for me.  Naturally, of course Dogen sangha people will admire their founding teacher, and I admire Hakuin.  But there's a limit, I think; even Warner would admit that. Similarly, I find it absurd to condemn someone because of their inexhaustible and beginingless greed, anger, and delusion, especially when the results of that might in fact be one's own greed, anger and delusion.  And that, by the way, I'm sure is a sentiment that is some kind of similar sentiment that must animate Genjo Marinello's thoughts about Eido Shimano.  But that's another story.  But regarding the condemnation, I also don't mean this post to say to others, "See you got it wrong! It's really like this!!!"  Yet still I can't resist the link that says, you know, I don't want this post, or any other  to sound like this;  I suppose that is my beginingless greed, anger, and delusion popping up.  (And for the record,  it seems the Zennist fails to grasp emptiness, based on my take-away from that post. There. I said it.)
I have had a few years doing this blogging, and it has taken a while to find a "voice" for this blog, and I think it's kind of true for writing in general.  This weblog is, or should be, about Buddhist practice in real life, which includes, but is not solely about meditation, sutra study,  current events, Buddhist celebrities, but inevitably should come back to being about Buddhist practice, which takes place, hopefully, everywhere, and is densely permeating the whole universe. 

I hope my practice blogging helps.


Nathan said...

I don't know what to make of attitudes about Dogen anymore. So many of us convert Soto types do seem to express the view that he wrote nothing wrong, and that criticism of any kind is all about our lack of "understanding." It's quite strange coming from the same folks who go around touting how Buddhism is all about testing teachings through your own experience.

I also find it really interesting that Dogen's work was on the margins for the most part until perhaps a hundred and fifty years ago. There was a resurgence of interest in Japan for his writings, and from that environment came the monks and teachers who brought Soto Zen to the "West."

Mumon said...


And yet, despite "being on the margins," Soto-shu has been more extensive than Rinzai-shu in Japan I'm told.

Me, I'm fond of Dogen; my training is in Rinzai primarily, via Hakuin, but I'm fairly open-minded in the Zen/Chan tradition.

I'm hoping I can get my wife to help translate Lai Guo's "Seven Gates of Zen Record" at some point.

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