Sunday, May 15, 2016

見性,臥龍, and how to talk about something you might not want to talk about. Oh, and Buddhist Ethics, too!

The more I think about it, the more I think about how the ethos of the hidden master - the "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" ethos (or more Japanese-y 臥龍, (がりゅう, garyū), hidden talent, literally "reclining dragon") permeates Zen practice.  Or perhaps it ought to do so.

Maybe Philip Kapleau was too clever when he would not answer as to whether or not he was "enlightened." (I prefer to use the term awakened; it's more accurate as a translation, and really has a bit more of a pedestrian hint to it, in my humble opinion.)  Maybe not.  But at any rate it appeared to be that he was upholding a longstanding protocol in Zen circles that one does not talk about one's awakening, and doing so by noting that there's no separate "self" that gets awakened.

Regardless, if  one has thought they had such an experience, and if one were to think the experience were deeply important, deeply personal, and regardless of the depth of experience, if one thought that experience was to be respected, one might think that a practice of absolute humility in considering the experience, and conveying those considerations of the experience  would be called for.   

Part of the reason I write this is there are some people who call themselves Buddhist teachers - or at least Western Convert Buddhist Authorities - that say the idea of reporting one's 見性 to the world is a taboo that's not useful.

I beg to differ.

Whatever anyone has experienced, to put it into words would trivialize it, regardless of whether or not it has an official seal of approval or what-not.

James Ford writes about the kenshō experience here. And it was said, admittedly by Eido Shimano, that according to Hakuin, paraphrasing,   if you did this practice with enough ardor and duration that you would not fail to have a  kenshō experience even if you could not get out of bed. 

While I have much to agree with in James Ford's post, I can't, as they might say in certain telecommunications standards bodies, endorse it.  Which is another way of saying, I would not have written about kenshō that way.   Mostly because of the things I wrote above.

That said,  among other things, yeah,  reports pretty much universally confirm that nothing changes, so it's not surprising to see certain oshos get into spats with each other.   And among the things that might cause these spats are what seems on some level to be a rather silly dispute, although the reasoning behind it is largely well intentioned.  The dispute centers around which "teachers" of Zen are "teachers." 

Now there are levels of recognition in Japanese Zen Buddhism, and to some extent they've evidently filtered their way over here.  There are in Rinzai-shu,  kōan curricula.  There are probably other requirements too.  Sōtō folks don't all do  kōan practice, so what seems to be the case is that there is a set number of hours you have to clock in, and bam! - you get some kind of title or recognition.

This is where the reclining dragon comes in.  Regarding on who's got what position in Zen and what that position is or is not called, it's been generally recognized that there's clergy and there's laity more or less. These relationships between clergy and laity have changed over the years and will probably continue to change in the future.   Sōtō-shu  doesn't have a monopoly or didn't even start new models for laity/clergy relationships. Despite what's written in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, new models for laity/clergy were not started via Shunryu Suzuki in the 1960s.  It didn't even start with Sokei An.  It started with Imakita Kosen in Japan in the 19th century.   (There's an imperfect Wikipedia article about it.)

My point is that there seems to be a heck of a lot more attachment to titles than there ought to be.  I think I've said that before,  but I think it bears repeating every now and then.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Dharmakaya and the deity concept

I have never written a post on the Dharmakaya in the 10+ years this blog has existed.

I'm not sure anyone else has either, except possibly for Brad Warner , and if he didn't, he should have. (Sorry Brad I didn't read your book.)  Because he might be more qualified to write about the topic than me, except for the more than average education I had in Christianity, though, to be honest, I forgot most of what Thomas Aquinas said about Christianity, mostly because his "proofs' for the existence of god were... how shall I put this?... stupid.  And Bertrand Russell was more than a bit priggish in his refutations of Thomas Aquinas's stupidity, but that's neither here nor there, except to say that Russell was more engaging than Aquinas.

I pretty much marginalized the Dharmakaya in my own head when I read Shaku Soen make comparisons to monotheism that I thought were off.  I attributed that to a combination of a hyper-adherence to the literal meanings of Sutras with a lack of understanding of Christianity. Or to put it another way, a kind of Orientalism meets Occidentalism: the demand for understanding an "exotic" religion is made in terms of its Oriental apprehension of the Occidental. 

But  I kind have been missing the point all these years. 

What the heck is a Dharmakaya and why should I care - or not care - if it exists or doesn't? 

On a brief reading of the Wikipedia page, though, I would say that I would understand the Dharmakaya really, really apart from the Western concepts of a monotheistic deity, and not incompatible with my experience.  But definitely not an essential thing "one must believe" in order to be a good Buddhist. 

That is to say, the Dharmakaya is an effort to verbally express implications of an experience of Mind or  awareness of Mind, and its perfection of wisdom.

This is not a single "person" or a trinity, by any means. 

Shaku Soen wrote:

At the outset, let me state that Buddhism is not atheistic as the term is ordinarily understood. It has certainly a God, the highest reality and truth, through which and in which this universe exists. However, the followers of Buddhism usually avoid the term God, for it savors so much of Christianity, whose spirit is not always exactly in accord with the Buddhist interpretation of religious experience. Again, Buddhism is not pantheistic in the sense that it identifies the universe with God. On the other hand, the Buddhist God is absolute and transcendent; this world, being merely its manifestation, is necessarily fragmental and imperfect. To define more exactly the Buddhist notion of the highest being, it may be convenient to borrow the term very happily coined by a modern German scholar, "panentheism," according to which God is πᾶν καὶ ἕν (all and one) and more than the totality of existence. 
One of the most fundamental beliefs of Buddhism is that all the multitudinous and multifarious phenomena in the universe start from, and have their being in, one reality which itself has "no fixed abode," being above spatial and temporal limitations. However different and separate and irreducible things may appear to the senses, the most profound law of the human mind declares that they are all one in their hidden nature. In this world of relativity, or nânâtva as Buddhists call it, subject and object, thought and nature, are separate and distinct, and as far as our sense-experience goes, there is an impassable chasm between the two which no amount of philosophizing can bridge. But the very constitution of the mind demands a unifying principle which is an indispensable hypothesis for our conception of phenomenality; and this hypothesis is called "the gate of sameness," samatâ, in contradistinction to "the gate of difference," nânâtva; and Buddhism declares that no philosophy or religion is satisfactory which does not recognize these two gates. In some measure the "gate of sameness" may be considered to correspond to "God" and the "gate of difference" to the world of individual existence. 
Now, the question is, "How does Buddhism conceive the relation between these two entrances to the abode of Supreme Knowledge (sambodhi)?" And the answer to this decides the Buddhist attitude towards pantheism, theism, atheism, and what not. 
To state it more comprehensively, Buddhism recognizes the coexistence and identity of the two principles, sameness and difference. Things are many and yet one; they are one and yet many. I am not thou, and thou art not I; and yet we are all one in essence. When one slays another, there is an actor, an act, and a sufferer, all distinct and separate; and yet 
"If the red slayer think he slays,
   Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
   I keep, and pass, and turn again."
Buddhism, therefore, says that while we have to acknowledge the world of particulars in which individuality predominates, we must not forget that looking through the gate of sameness all distinctions and contradictions vanish in a higher principle of unity. A Japanese poet thus sings: 
"Rain and hail and ice and snow,
Neither like the other. So!
When they melt, however, lo,
See one stream of water flow! 
Intellectually, the coexistence of the two mutually excluding thoughts is impossible, for the proposition, "Mine are not thine," cannot be made at the same time the proposition, "Mine are thine." But here Buddhism is speaking of our inmost religious experience, which deals directly with facts and not with their more or less distorted intellectual reflections. It is, therefore, really idle to say that Buddhism is pantheistic or atheistic or nihilistic. Buddhism is not a philosophical system, though it is the most rational and intellectual religion in the world. What it proposes is to make clear facts of the deepest spiritual life and to formulate a doctrine which leads its followers to the path of inward experience. 
Thus, according to the proclamation of an enlightened mind, God or the principle of sameness is not transcendent, but immanent in the universe, and we sentient beings are manifesting the divine glory just as much as the lilies of the field. A God who, keeping aloof from his creations, sends down his words of command through specially favored personages, is rejected by Buddhists as against the constitution of human  reason. God must be in us, who are made in his likeness. We cannot presume the duality of God and the world. Religion is not to go to God by forsaking the world, but to find him in it. Our faith is to believe in our essential oneness with him, and not in our sensual separateness. "God in us and we in him," must be made the most fundamental faith of all religion.

It's the personalization  of the notion of God that is troublesome for me here.  What Soen is pointing to does seem to pervade Buddhism, both in its "operatic" form with myriad personages, throughout space and time and so on  This I have no issue with "A God who, keeping aloof from his creations, sends down his words of command through specially favored personages, is rejected by Buddhists as against the constitution of human  reason."  But I think it's a bit much to say "God must be in us, who are made in his likeness."  That's not to say that the "sameness principle"  samatâ, isn't a reality; it most certainly is, and we do indeed resonate  samatâ with breath, with each cycle of our life, with birth, with death, with love, laughter, and with tears.

I often say "Void forbid" or some other such statement in place of god; it's because Void is probably a better stand-in for the Dharmakaya than god.  I still think it does a bit of injustice to refer to the Dharmakaya as god, and it's an injustice to not only Buddhists, but monotheists and atheists.  I think it's better to keep these kinds of categories separated with respect to discussion their particular religious or secular terms of reference.  Sure, there are functional similarities between the Dharmakaya and the monotheist deity or the universe as we (don't) know it.  But the Dharmakaya wasn't put forth to be a placeholder for something in another religion or philosophy.  Or to put it another way, you don't really have samatâ without a corresponding nânâtva, gate of difference.

And yes, that's not necessarily the Buddhism of the practitioners of a Cha'n temple in Xi'an, but Buddhism tends to lack required catechisms that all must memorize by rote.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Buddhist Ethics?

Via Buddhist Geeks, I came across this piece on (")Buddhist ethics(") by David Chapman, who I have to say is a guy I haven't heard about before.

Mr. Chapman notes:

I use “Buddhist ethics” (with scare quotes) to refer to the ethics taught by Consensus Buddhism. (Consensus Buddhism is the American synthesis of the ideals of the 1960s youth movement with Asian Buddhist modernism.) Traditional Buddhist morality is quite different, as I’ll explain in upcoming posts.

As I understand it,  Mr. Chapman sees it "Buddhist ethics" is somewhat indistinguishable from some kind of bourgeois Whole Foods kind of progressive hipster ethos, or something like that, or at least something a college left-leaning Californian non-Buddhist might ought to find as different from his ethics, even if it's not the case.

I beg to differ.   And I think Brad Warner would too.

There’s a damned good reason the early Buddhists taught ethical precepts along with meditation. They understood right from the start that meditation without ethics can be a very bad thing indeed. For the meditator as much as for anyone else. But now we have to make our meditation courses completely secular. So a whole generation is learning to meditate without any training in ethics to go along with it.

Mr. Chapman is correct in asserting  that by and large, traditional Buddhist morality wasn't all that great.  However, although traditional Buddhist behavior of clergy was often intimately related to political intrigue and horrors such as slavery,  considering that there was no such thing as Western enlightenment philosophy from which to build (which itself carries a whole bunch of horrible baggage, e.g., as can be found from Marxist critiques of Locke),  it probably was more or less the best thing out there religion-wise at the time.  In fact,  later philosophies built on Buddhism as a religious tradition in the West.  Then there's the real likelihood that at least some aspects of New Testament Christianity were influenced by Buddhism (see for example, the Prodigal Son parables of the Lotus Sutra and the New Testament.)

But about that hypothetical Californian, I still beg to differ.

First of all,  Buddhist ethics - at least to me anyway - proceeds from something far more fundamental than the straw-man Californian ethics Mr. Chapman posits as identical to (")Buddhist ethics.(") It implies karma and compassion, but the fundamental thing is the emptiness of all phenomena.  There is a reason the Heart Sutra is written the way it is, and its point is not to promote a touchy-feely New Age kumbayasity.   All dharmas are fundamentally without an essential substance.    Buddhist ethics, as a dharma, is not non-existent, but perennially "in play."

I doubt the empty nature of ethics as a dharma is going to one day unfold into making us all regular Kodos the Executioners however.  Why do I say this? Well, folks wiser than me, and more learned than I am have been considering Buddhist ethics for a while. (Why, there's even a Wikipedia page on it. Though I admit it is ironic that a page on Buddhist ethics features Dennis Genpo Merzel.  But just because there's bugs in the system doesn't mean the system doesn't exist.)  Much of what has been written as Buddhist ethics does rely on textual analysis and criticism.  But regardless, ethics is a little like science or history, or case law.  One of the cool things about being a bipedal ape-descended life form called homo sapiens is that we are really good at using information as a tool to preserve learning across generations.  (Notice I didn't say we're unique in that.  I don't know about whether chimpanzees can do something like that, but slime molds might be able to do such a thing, for example.  It's just we're really good at using information.)

So naturally what is seen as Buddhist ethics in one century is going to have the potential to look quite different 1000 years later!  People, being people, are going to revisit questions about how to live and they're going to compare it to what people wrote down previously about the subject!  Based on this alone, there's really no difference in the relative "fixedness" of Buddhist ethics compared to any other ethics!

Secondly,  like a lot of Western Buddhist writing, it kind of ignores the fact that there are Asian practitioners of Buddhism, who would tell you that their own appropriation of Buddhist ethics might not be yours or mine.  Yes, there are no deep ethical treatises in Buddhism, at least none that I know about,  and in English.  But that does not mean that there is an obliviousness to wrongdoing or that there is no such thing as wrongdoing.  It is just that especially from a Buddhist perspective  emptiness + the nature of learning → what we see as acceptable behavior today might be unacceptable tomorrow and vice versa.   That's not a rightish or leftish thing, although to paraphrase Stephen Colbert the accumulation and advancement of knowledge might well have a liberal bias.

But more than that,  if a David Chapman writes "there's no such thing as Buddhist ethics,"  I do think that there is inherent in that statement an erasure of norms of Buddhist behavior or "case ethics" l as practiced by non-Western Buddhists.  There's literally millions of people who practice Buddhism who engage in certain behaviors because they see it as morally and ethically beneficial from a Buddhist perspective.  Would a "leftish" California person see the point of going vegetarian or Vegan depending on phases of the moon?  Yet quite educated and intelligent Chinese people do such a thing and could explain to you why they do such a thing.  And they and their clergy would look at you like you were from the planet Ogo if you were to tell them that their ethics and moral practices came from some "Consensus" Buddhist fusion of some Western stuff with some Buddhist stuff.  Or they might roll their eyes at the White Convert Buddhist-splaining of their take on ethics and morality.

Yeah, it's an elephant and we're all blind.

And if "case ethics" is "situational ethics" to you so be it.  Buddhist "absolutes" - that which in Western terms one would juxtapose against "situational ethics" or "moral relativism,"  - would be sunyata itself.  It's one of my many beefs with conservative moralists who inveigh against the lack of respect for "moral absolutes" that they have no idea what is absolute.  But I digress, except perhaps to say maybe a better idea for an essay is "There's no such thing as Western ethics."

Thirdly, what Brad Warner said.   Clearly it was the intent of early Buddhist monks to convey some type of behavioral norms.   And there were reasons why these behavioral norms were  conveyed, not the least of which was to try to get a bunch of mendicants not to go all People's Temple, I suppose.  Moreover, I think the privileging of meditation over ethics as is often represented in Western Convert Buddhist circles has consequences.  Mr. Chapman might say that's a trite statement, but experience has shown meditation without ethics is associated with certain problems arising from a lack of ethical practice, trite or not.

Fourthly, Chapman writes:

What’s missing is justifications: the “whys” and “wherefores” that are the substance of Western ethics. Mostly, Westerners take the “whats” as given; we don’t need to be told not to kill, steal, and lie. That’s kindergarten stuff. What we want to know is how to use principles to resolve conflicting moral considerations.

Coincidentally,  I was watching Richard Dawkins talking about science versus religion and he made the point that in regard to questions concerning things like how we got here, and such "why" is not an meaningful question to ask.  "Why" is not the same thing as "what is  the cause?"

In my apprehension of Buddhism,  my take on Mahayana Zen Buddhism,  a similar point applies. Cases of how to act when conflicting moral considerations are in play are dealt with based on our awareness of them, and our understanding of the implications of how to act in such cases.  Pay attention! And if you can't wrap your head around the Parable of the Burning House in the Lotus Sutra, or have to ask "Why?" about that,  I submit that yes, there's ethical issues, but it's not because there's an issue with the existence or nonexistence of Buddhist ethics.


If you're asking that question you're probably not paying attention.

I think this is a good start for now.  I see that as part of this series Mr. Chapman has a take on the mindfulness movement.   I might respond to that too, later. But this is good for now.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Get dressed, get blessed. Try to be a success. Please her, please him, buy gifts. Or,on being a 臥龍

Brad Warner has an interesting piece out that deals with issues that have been on my mind for quite a while.

Success depends on measurement and comparison. On the one hand, I am successful because I have six books out, all of which are still in print including the first one I published over ten years ago. I don’t have to punch a clock every day. I’m my own boss. I earn enough to pay my rent and my bills and have some left over to buy old records over at the Goodwill.
On the other hand, I am unsuccessful because none of my books has ever won a literary prize. They don’t sell as well as those by many other writers in my field. I’ve never been reviewed in the New York Times and no doubt never will. I’ll never be on Oprah’s Super Spiritual Sunday. NPR routinely ignores every book I put out. Bill Maher doesn’t want me on his show even though every other person who writes a book about religion gets on. I was once told by someone who deals with the big names on the spiritual scene that I am “not even on the radar” when it comes to the real stars of the meditation world. My retreats don’t pack ‘em in like those run by the big boys in the scene.

The sangha to which I belong is a very small sangha.  We've had one or two new members in the past 10 years. Yet, the osho of my sangha is a pretty accomplished guy.   It's just that in the US he's even less on the radar than Mr. Warner. (Japan is a bit different, let's just say.)

So sometimes I get the feeling that my osho's Zen doesn't get the attention it deserves. It probably won't appear in Adam Kōshin (meaning "Shining Heart") Tebbe's documentary on Zen in America if that ever gets made.  Our sangha doesn't get any mention on Sweeping Zen, though pretty much all the Rinzai osho's I've spoken with in the Pacific Northwest have heard of him.  We've never put up a booth at the Portland Buddhist Festival. 

There's reasons why my osho's sangha is small.  Part of that has to do with the fact that our sittings are done at his residence, and it would be kind of unusual for 60 people to suddenly show up for a zazenkai.  It also has to do with the fact that my osho also manages a temple in Japan, so much of the year he is not in the US.  Finally, it has to do with the fact that we have a really minimal internet presence.  We could actually have more of an internet presence, but we don't have one as of now.

Yet,  none of that really matters all that much.  It doesn't matter all that much because it's not the point of the sangha.  It's not the point of sitting, as Brad Warner points out either. 

This blog has been around for over 10 years.  I have something like 40 followers, and when I tweet about a post,  I might get a hundred or so readers, occasionally more if I'm posting something about a Zen scandal.   Adam Kōshin (meaning "Shining Heart") Tebbe might still disagree with me, but from the analytics it's obvious even in Zen Buddhism, scandal sells.  But I want this blog to be a bit more than about scandals, and besides, if it's only about scandals, then your source of content is exhausted once scandals die down.

I'm pretty successful, as the world defines success, in my career.  Substantially less so in other areas of my life.   But I really stopped worrying so much whether we have a "name" sangha or such.  This also has to do with something that Hakuin mentioned more or less: If you do this practice for enough years,  and with good intent, and attempt at least to be ethical, it can't not benefit you. That's not the same thing as having an explicit goal to make what I think is an obvious point.

In fact, I think some of the issues with American Zen/Convert Zen/... stem from the desire of some oshos to want their sanghas to grow and be popular or "successful." (You might think you know who I'm talking about, but besides them there's others.)

I should mention one other thing.  My osho's temple in Japan sits on a large hill (small mountain?) called 臥龍山, (がりゅうさん, garyūsan), which means "unrecognized genius," "exceptional person hidden among the masses," or "dragon laying down," or more colloquially, "sleeping dragon."  The word がりゅう is also a homonym for 我流, which has the kanji for "self," and "flow," and means, "self taught," or "one's own way."  That's a pretty apt name for a mountain on which to put a Zen temple, no?  It's finding one's way, and being a sleeping dragon, or as Lin Chi put it, a person of no rank.