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.