Saturday, October 30, 2010

Another post on "nurturing" versus "marine boot camp" Buddhism

I have sat with two teachers who are women in my days...two of which were in the same general lineage as Barbara O'Brien.  And I am very grateful for their teachings. 


My doctoral thesis adviser was a Holocaust survivor.  Another teacher at Polytechnic routinely failed 2/3 of his class - from him I truly learned how to bring elegance, beauty and clarity and discipline to real world engineering problems.  There's a guy mentioned on the Tricycle blog who says wisdom isn't found at universities, and I call BS on that. If you are in the right place at the right time you may meet a real teacher, even if he's not a Buddhist.

Teachers in my lineage had to endure much in Japan during and after the war.  They had to practice amidst those conditions.  As I noted on Barbara's blog, the great mainland Chinese Chan masters of the 20th century endured unspeakable hardships both in and outside  the temple and not only due to the Communists. 

That's why eventually on Barbara's blog I wrote that the experience of these people - and their students make Nomura-san's experience at Eihei-ji, even if true, seem like a paper cut by comparison.  It seems self-evident to me that there is a point to the hardship at these temples, and it is to teach the student that the hardship ain't nuthin' compared to the unspeakable hardships untold millions of beings have faced and do face.

It is true that, um...hardship is hard.  And not everyone can pass through it - or should.  But to those who can and do, to those who can meet their greatest fear and pass through it, in the midst of it,  there is a skill given that enables one to help.

 Barbara wrote,

But the point is that this monastery -- an all-male enclave in a patriarchal society-- sounds out of balance; way too much yang, not enough yin. It seems that the old boot camp feel was an echo of hyper-masculine qualities of Japanese Zen, and now that echo is fading away.

That sentiment can't help but seem to me to be "out of balance" itself; it seems like she is practicing a feminist reaction to perceived and actual injustices of a patriarchy rather than Zen.  And I'm sorry if she's offended but Zen will still be Zen and the Dharma will still be the Dharma no matter how much there is a Yin/Yang "imbalance." 

Although it's Taoist, and not Buddhist, it seems fitting to quote Lao Tzu here:

When the great Tao is lost spring forth benevolence and righteousness.
When wisdom and sagacity arise, there are great hypocrites.
When family relations are no longer harmonious, we have filial children and devoted parents.
When a nation is in confusion and disorder, patriots are recognized.
Where Tao is, equilibrium is. When Tao is lost, out come all the differences of things.

Do away with learning, and grief will not be known.
Do away with sageness and eject wisdom, and the people will be more benefited a hundred times.
Do away with benevolence and eject righteousness, and the people will return to filial duty and parental love.
Do away with artifice and eject gains and there will be no robbers and thieves.
These four, if we consider them as a culture, are not sufficient.
Therefore let there be what the people can resort to:
Appear in plainness and hold to simplicity;
Restrain selfishness and curtail desires.

Sometimes it isn't a bad idea not to try and fix and improve everything.  The Dharma will still be the Dharma whether we practice in a way too much "Yin" manner or way too much "Yang" manner.


Anonymous said...

You quoted the Tao te Ching to bring a balanced understanding to the so called harsh training involved in zen training. Don't they have have such quotes in the zen tradition you are indoctrinated in? If not i began to wonder why. You defend the harsh treatment of students as though it teaches them that life is tough and even tougher than what they are enduring to learn about their own Buddha nature. Maybe that is not the purpose of the harsh training though. Maybe it is just a masochistic technique that everyone expects in that institution and has little to do with leading others to understanding their own Buddha nature. If some teacher were to strike me, i would strike them back or leave their their place. You might be interested in the interview with a "failed monk" because of this harsh tradition.... located here on the web....

Mumon K said...


There are quite a few other bits I could have quoted; a few koans come to mind, the Identity of the Relative and the Absolute, the bits on skillful means in the Lotus Sutra.

Its just that that poetic part of the Tao te Ching came to mind.

Regarding Clark Strand's experience, I wouldn't write off the whole Rinzai tradition because of his experience, and even he does not attribute his leaving the Zen school to any perceived harshness of the tradition but rather with his perception of it being "formulaic," which I find quite odd, because my experience - admittedly as a layman - is that it's all very singular, unique.

I also would submit that the Chan monk's experience was, if anything, more harsh than anything that would have been experienced at Dai Bosatsu.

Anonymous said...

Loving the new design, great work. Do you think it will always be this way?

Mumon K said...


No, except insofar is "this way" is impermanent.

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