Karmic effect/s of Zazen
I remember reading many years ago a statement from Dogen Zenji (and I've racked my brains trying to remember exactly where) that five minutes of concentrated zazen would diminish many years of accumulated bad/negative karma. What is the consensus on this matter? Does zazen have a positive karmic effect, or effects, on the practitioner? I do realise that all actions, speech, and thought have karmic effects: However, I am specifically making the positive karmic effect/s of zazen the subject of these questions, so I am not ignoring the obvious.
The zen fox koan
Every time Baizhang, Zen Master Dahui, gave a dharma talk, a certain old man would come to listen. He usually left after the talk, but one day he remained. Baizhang asked, "Who is there?"
The man said, "I am not actually a human being. I lived and taught on this mountain at the time of Kashyapa Buddha. One day a student asked me, 'Does a person who practices with great devotion still fall into cause and effect?' I said to him, 'No, such a person doesn't.' Because I said this I was reborn as a wild fox for five hundred lifetimes. Reverend master, please say a turning word for me and free me from this wild fox body." Then he asked Baizhang, "Does a person who practices with great devotion still fall into cause and effect?"
Baizhang said, "Don't ignore cause and effect."
Immediately the man had great realization. Bowing, he said, "I am now liberated from the body of a wild fox. I will stay in the mountain behind the monastery. Master, could you perform the usual services for a deceased monk for me?"
Baizhang asked the head of the monks' hall to inform the assembly that funeral services for a monk would be held after the midday meal. The monks asked one another, "What's going on? Everyone is well; there is no one sick in the Nirvana Hall." After their meal, Baizhang led the assembly to a large rock behind the monastery and showed them a dead fox at the rock's base. Following the customary procedure, they cremated the body.
That evening during his lecture in the dharma hall Baizhang talked about what had happened that day. Huangbo asked him, "A teacher of old gave a wrong answer and became a wild fox for five hundred lifetimes. What if he hadn't given a wrong answer?"
Baizhang said, "Come closer and I will tell you." Huangbo went closer and slapped Baizhang's face. Laughing, Baizhang clapped his hands and said, "I thought it was only barbarians who had unusual beards. But you too have an unusual beard!"
So I believe that the answer is yes... and no. But I could be wrong and/or right.
Originally Posted by Foursquare
I believe that you may be recalling this passage from Bendowa [translator notes in brackets, from Nishijima-Cross] ...
If a human being, even for a single moment, manifests the Buddha’s posture in the three forms of conduct [of body, speech and mind] while [that person] sits up straight in samādhi, the entire world of Dharma assumes the Buddha’s posture and the whole of space becomes the state of realization. [The practice] thus increases the Dharma joy that is the original state of the buddha-tathāgatas, and renews the splendor of their realization of the truth. Furthermore, throughout the Dharma worlds in ten directions, ordinary beings of the three states and the six states [the three miserable states or worlds, are hell, the world of hungry ghosts (pretas), and the world of animals, and the “six ways” are the three miserable worlds plus the worlds of demons (asuras), human beings, and gods (devas).] all become clear and pure in body and mind at once; they experience the state of great liberation, and their original features appear. Then all dharmas experience and understand right realization and myriad things each put their Buddhist body into practice; in an instant, they totally transcend the limits of experience and understanding; they sit erect as kings of the bodhi tree; in one moment, they turn the great Dharma wheel which is in the unequaled state of equilibrium; and they expound the ultimate, unadorned, and profound state of prajñā. These balanced and right states of realization also work the other way, following paths of intimate and mystical cooperation, so that this person who sits in zazen steadfastly gets free of body and mind, cuts away miscellaneous impure views and thoughts [accumulated] from the past, and thus experiences and understands the natural and pure Buddha-Dharma. Throughout each of the infinitesimal, innumerable seats of truth of the buddha-tathāgatas, [the practitioner] promotes the Buddha’s work and spreads its influence far and wide over those who have the ascendant makings of a buddha, thus vividly uplifting the ascendant real state of a buddha.
A couple of points: Dogen's view of "Zazen Samadhi" was not necessarily a deep deep state of mental concentration as meant by the term "Samadhi" in many other forms of meditation. As demonstrated in the above passage and many other places in his writings (such as Zanmai ō zanmai), the very sacred action of sitting Zazen is the realization of all the Buddhas, is "Samadhi" realized. As you can see in the above, Dogen was a master of the vivid description, and felt that a moment of Zazen is the whole universe, all reality, all the Buddhas and Ancestors, Enlightenment realized just in the pure act of sitting. It is not necessarily a matter of reaching some mental state of unusual concentration.
Of course, when we are sitting Zazen, silently and and harmlessly, in body, mouth and mind, we are not creating much new Karma ... because we are just sitting still. One is also manifesting that wondrous realm beyond cause and effect, good an evil. However, Dogen also emphasized in other sections of his writings (such as Shoaku Makusa and Sanjigo) that we still have to act nicely in this world, avoiding harmful, angry, greedy actions, when off the cushion, in the rest of life.
I personally feel that we can fall into bad Karma at any moment, falling into greed, anger and ignorance and acting as if we are animals or never satisfied "hungry ghosts". However, we can always purify our Karma by what we choose to do from this moment forward, to make amends for the past, clean up our act, make this world and life better through our deeds.
PS - Foursquare, would you mind to put up a picture of your photographable face (or something close), and sign with a first human name? Please see here,no. 4 ... Thank you ...
I think that the concept of karma is a useful tool in personalizing the otherwise external effects of some of our actions in a way that they otherwise aren't. However, to further the concept to the point where one is actively assessing strategies in an attempt to ameliorate karma efficiently is to misuse the concept. One should think about how to lessen the creation of further karma, not thinking about how to erase a karmic debt - IMHO.
Originally Posted by Foursquare
Think of karma as the force of a spinning wheel - all actions to attempt to stop the spinning of the wheel counterproductively increases the force of the spinning wheel. The way to stop the spinning is to stop actively spinning it - stop adding force of action and thought toward gaining ideas.
Originally Posted by disastermouse
Hmmm. I am not so sure that this is quite so.
As I often say, I am not very sure or concerned about past lives (if any) ... but I do know what comes to flower in this one, so I will simply speak about this one. Certainly, in this life we have all done some things in the past. I think we should not just leave such facts there, but reflect on our past actions, learn from our mistakes in the past so we do not repeat, attempt to fix any damage we have done that can still be fixed, and offer apologies to anyone we have hurt in the past if it will help to heal. This is "purifying Karma". If we cannot fix the damage done, we might be able to do some other work to leave this world better in some other way (such as war veteran and Zen Priest Anshin Thomas, mentioned on another thread today, who cannot restore the hundreds of lives he killed during Vietnam, so works for peace and healing in other ways http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_AnShin_Thomas) We can make a "new life" each instant by instant by our choices and actions from now on.
As well, I believe a balanced and proportionate degree of remorse and "feeling bad" about something we did in the past is not necessarily bad if not in excess. It is part of the "paying the debt of past Karma". If I did not cause my son to feel a little "bad" about having told a lie or stealing some toy from his friend, he might never learn (in fact, sounds fairly sociopathic to be too clinical and unfeeling about one's actions). So, I think a little "regret and remorse" is natural, and hard wired into us. On the other hand, if not in excess (oh, how we love to beat ourselves up over small things far out of proportion to the situation!!!! That is not good. ). We can accept the past, fully embrace that "what happened happened" ... and simultaneously feel a bit sad about it (all at once, not two ... acceptance without acceptance). Only regret and sadness in excess may it be a problem, when it reaches the point of beating ourselves up over something we did out of proportion to the situation.
And, of course, in Zazen we experience that realm where the "slate is always wiped clean" because there was never a slate to write from the first, where there is no abuse/abused/abuser, no debt ever in need of paying. All True At Once, Not Two.
PS - If anyone would like to read more about the general Buddhist idea of "Karma" ...
I didn't mean to denigrate the idea of making amends. My point was (supposed to be, LOL) more about not trying to find 'short-cuts' to karmic repayment a la the OP question. This seems more a gaining idea than a matter of making amends or doing the hard work of reflecting on embarrassing past behavior.
Originally Posted by disastermouse
Oh yes, I agree with that. While, for example, sitting Zazen or undertaking Jukai might be one link in changing of our bad past Karma ... and while, yes, absolutely a moment of Zazen is free and freeing of all Karma ... there are no short cuts to making amends to doing the hard work of reflecting/fixing/changing for the future. Well said.
I have found that Pema Chödrön's "Don't Bite the Hook" helps put the issue of karmic debt in perspective. She explains ways to do that which involve handling anger and bad intentions in the mind first, to head off the actions that the resentful mind gives rise to. I find that in working with this, actually taking action in the form of "good deeds", if you will, comes a bit more naturally and genuinely than if you say, "I'd better give a dollar to every homeless person I see to pay off my karmic debt", which is a self-imposed pressure that becomes stilted, artificial, and goal-oriented.
*edited, twice, for sloppy word usage and rudely leaving out my signature. Too perfectionist, I know.