Thursday, April 28, 2011

Turns out Zen is about Buddhism

NellaLou has a great post on the continuing saga at Madhushala, and hits all the right notes, in my opinion, about Merzel and what his Sangha and Board should do.

But in writing about that, and  doing some stuff at work related to my company's business as well as searching for temples in which to visit in my upcoming trip to China this summer, I became aware of a few things, not all of which appear to be immediately related to the subject at hand, at least at first:
  1.  I was still wondering why this Rube Goldberg financial structure existed that to the casual visitor's mind, conflated "Big Mind" with "Kanzeon Zen Center." It was, I think, clear enough in retrospect: "Big Mind" served as Genpo Merzel's way of introducing "Zen-like" things into non-Buddhists.  It would  end up  to be a case of the tail wagging the dog here.
  2. Ditto for this "Integral" stuff:  It still appears - to me - that this whole "Integral" thing is nothing more and nothing less than a clumsy attempt to try to "make Buddhism better" by blending it with pop-psychology and New Age woo. 
  3. In Southeastern China, there is a plethora of Zen temples; some of which are undoubtedly brand spanking new (like the one in North East China I wrote about in 2009) but many of which are remnants and regrowth of the original temples. And there's an obvious reason for the original temples and the growth of Chan in this part of China if one thinks about  the realities of that part of the world: Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang, and Jiangsu provinces are a melting pot of dialects/languages, more than a few of which are not mutually intelligible in any meaningful degree; look up each of the places on Wikipedia if you want more information about that.  If ever there was a place that needed a doctrine of "no reliance on words or letters" it was this place.  And if there was any place here that was "the right" place to see Chan Buddhism in China, it would be here. But exact temples and locations might not matter all that much, eventually; it was the practice itself that mattered. 
  4. Introducing Zen Buddhist concepts to non-Buddhists is not in any way an easy task facilitated by "dialogues" with other "gurus" or creating meta-concepts in order to "bridge" or "transcend" ideologies.  It took Japan over a thousand years to come up with the concepts of Ma ( 間) and Wabisabi (侘寂 ) - not to mention the application of Zen to the martial arts the like.  And they're still struggling with what kind of a culture they want to have!
All of which is to say that Zen Buddhism is about the cultivation of skill of Buddhism.  It took folks a long time to figure out a whole bunch of things related to how we live, including, but not limited to why it's good to boil water, how to get to eat rice, vaccines, karma, how much sleep to get, and 10,000 other things.  Ditto for how to cultivate the skill of Buddhism. And we have to practice it, even when it's painful or not what we "like" or what others "like."

It is true we take vows in Mahayana Buddhist to save all beings, but we do that through living our own mundane little lives which briefly flicker in this place in the blink of the blink of an eye in the life of this small speck of iron in an unfashionable part of the Milky Way galaxy.  And there are no shortcuts in our own little mundane lives. If there were, we'd be cutting out the profundity of it all along with the mundaneness.

Zen Buddhism is about the cultivation of skill of Buddhism. That means that our lives are crafted by us, slowly but surely, imperfectly, impermanently, and surely incomplete.  As NellaLou points out, there is an infusion of doubt (and I'd also add faith) in this.   This skill may be passed to others in the way a craftsman passes his skill to an apprentice; in the same way it's folly to think that one can pass the gist of any highly refined skill to just anyone without emphasizing that diligent training is needed to be able to make any fruitful use of skills.

Temples and sanghas are good of course, but there's a time and a place  for everything, and if the "sangha" in question is more devoted to something that goes against the way in which a life is rightly to be lived, it's time to re-examine what that sangha is all about, just as in finding "the" historical temple of Chan Buddhism overlooks the Much Bigger Thing.


J said...
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Mumon said...



J said...

When you self-immolate--serenely, in proper zen fashion-- Ill believe you, mumonsan, maybe

the endless realms of bodhisattvas are at least as supernatural as the catholic "communion of saints"---on the quackometer, the mahayana outdoing the theravada IMHE (tho it has spooky aspects as well).

Dogma, east and west

See, the problem is Steve Jobs, and people like him are.....shit of the earth. Chandala. Zen doesn't remedy that. Mao did-- but it wasn't too pretty.

J said...

" no yo puedo leer chino..",

is that like.....Chandala?

I don't intend to be insulting Mumo--just happen to think western buddhism, even that outfitted with chinese characters, is...Bogus--a type of suburban escapism, primarily appealing to ...nouveau riche morons (like Jobs). And at least as supernatural as christianity (belief in ghosts, for one)

karate class might be of some benefit but the zen a small part usually.

Mumon said...


You're not qualified to even render an opinion on these things; it's like you're reviewing a movie that hasn't been made.

J said...

Oh yes I am little man. There are no great mysteries--that's part of the guru hype that came from the 60s.

But I wonder if you understand what like a formal argument is, or what economic realism is--Hobbes 101

Besides, any claims of the supernatural (ie ghosts aka pretas, or afterlife, etc) are as subject to .. confirmation as similar claims in western religions or occultic BS are.

Finally, given that you and others of your ilk secularize/materialize the entire tradition of Bud., what? It's reduced to a type of therapy or counseling more or less. Some people meditate--mainly to feel better, not because of some religious duty. Others play chess, or the piano, or seduce housewives.

You're the confused one here.

Mumon said...

Normally I'd be ignoring you by now. But your response had nothing at all to do with my response.

Oranges and grapefruits have different flavors to me (and evidently others), regardless of philosophy or metaphysics.

You're mistaking religion for something that results from mental, ummm...pleasuring, rather than a skill to be honed because it's what we do for ourselves and others.

Of course, there's nothing I can tell you here; I don't really care if your mind is changed or not, but if you come here with what some preconceived notions of Buddhism are, don't expect to be taken seriously, but do understand that your unintentional levity is greatly appreciated nonetheless.


J said...

Again Guru Mu, you seem to think that buddhism (like among all religions) has some special standing about from Reason, science, logic, etc. when it doesn't. The miraculous claims of bud. texts. render it suspect in any literal sense (ie, Hume's points re miracles apply to east, as well as west).

IM quite sure I know the early texts as well or better than is the "zen" hustlers who don't understand the traditional, 8-fold path buddhism, tho they might allude to the "bodhisattva"hype (itself an rather bizarre and irrational concept).

Barbara O'Brien said...

Mumon -- "reviewing a movie that hasn't been made" pretty much nails it. But you're being very patient; I tend to respond to the Bookstore Buddhists once and then run their smugly ignorant butts off my blog.

Mumon said...

Thanks. It's troll practice you know. :-)

J said...

Oh wow I didn't even note the tag: "Spiritual Hucksterism".

That be you, Mumo, and western boodhism.

How f-ing easy is that? Bada bing. But you are a bit more entertaining than the usual yankee guru

J said...
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