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Thread: Fathering your father

  1. #1

    Fathering your father

    I saw this book when I was perusing an online bookstore and I wondered if anyone here was familiar with it?

    http://www.hamiltonbook.com/Religion...-tang-buddhism

    From a description on amazon, it seems to delve into the lineage of chan/zen and the author argues that there is no real validity to the historical lineage. This is not a new theory but I didn't know if anyone had any input on this particular book.



    Sent from my Nexus 7 using Tapatalk 2

  2. #2
    Hi,

    Yes, one of my favorite topics! There are actually several good books on the subject by reputable historians of Zen and Buddhism such as "Seeing through Zen: Encounter, Transformation, and Genealogy in Chinese Chan Buddhism" by John R. McRæ (shorter and rather more readable to for the casual reader than Cole's "Fathering your Father", although I really recommend both only to folks with a particular interest in the subject. "Chan", by the way, is the Chinese name for "Zen").

    In a nutshell, yes, the "Unbroken" Lineage stretching back to Buddha was invented over centuries, often by linking (especially the farther back one goes into the mists of time) people who likely never knew each other, frequently had nothing to do with "Zen", and often never existed at all, in order to create a bridge back and provide the Zen schools historical legitimacy. From a review of McRae:

    For some, this reinterpretation of history may be painful as long-held beliefs about the development of Zen come under close scrutiny. All religions need myths and exemplars to spur faith and practice, Zen more than most, it being a particularly demanding practice. However, if one's faith in the Buddha Way, the Dharma, the practice itself, is based on "foolish over-simplifications and confusing obfuscations", then a re-examination is necessary and if the faith is found wanting by this process one's faith cannot be considered sound in the first place. McRae's book is part of an ongoing process of placing Zen in a clearer historical context which often clashes with the mythologies taught in today's Zen centres in both the East and the West. Zen Buddhism is all about removing the scales from our eyes and seeing clearly. This should include the history of the religion itself. All illusions must be seen through. Chan deserves a book such as this but this is only a beginning in the long process of taking Chan out of medieval China and Zen out of Japan and dragging it, often kicking and screaming, into this new millennium.
    ...
    Time and again we find we are dealing, not with what happened at any given point, but with what people thought happened previously. We deal not so much in facts and events as in legends and reconstructions, not so much with accomplishments and contributions as with attributions and legacies.

    Lineage charts took centuries to develop into the system we know today. Encounter dialogues [1] (which laid the groundwork for koan studies) were similarly retrospective, the first being Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall (952) which appeared some one hundred fifty years after the encounters supposedly happened. Over the centuries these dialogues were polished, expanded upon and became ever more detailed. And this leads to McRae's Third Rule of Zen Studies: “Precision implies inaccuracy.” The details of the Zen dialogues “lend an air of verisimilitude to a story” (p. xix) but these details should be recognised for what they are: a literary trope.
    This is true. I think we need to recognize and celebrate the fact that many of the old stories and legends of Zen and Buddhism are just that ... stories and legends that someone cooked up long after.

    However, it is really not a problem for me. Here is why:

    - There is no doubt that some people, generation by generation, kept this Buddhist way alive for 2,500 years ... right to our doorstep. Even if we don't know all their actual names, somebody did so and the Lineage expresses gratitude to those forgotten folks. I mean, do you know the name of your own Great-Great Grandfathers and Grandmothers? Even if not, you should be very thankful to them for birthing and raising your Great Grandfathers and Grandmothers!

    - "Zen" pretty much developed in China around the 6th Century when Indian Buddhism met Chinese culture and sensibilities, and then kept developing and evolving right to today. It moved on to Japan and Korea, changed a bit more, and now to the West. It is the same, but different, different but the same in many ways. It is not exactly what and how the historical Buddha taught. In fact, in some ways it is an improvement, with the Buddha something like our "Henry Ford" or the "Wright Brothers"! (At least we think so. That is one reason that Mahayana Buddhists, the "Great Vehicle", for thousands of years have been calling all that Indian stuff "the Lessor vehicle" ... although no long PC to do ... and why Zen folks have implied that their way was a "Special Transmission" different from all that the historical Buddha taught other folks who needed their Buddhism in other packages.).

    - Zen is Ultimately Timeless. Truly, if one encounters Enlightenment right here, right now, on one's Zafu, then we might say all the Buddhas and Ancestors are "Real" beyond small human ideas of "true or false", and all the Buddhas and Ancestors are sitting on the Zafu as you are sitting. If one pierces the Wisdom manifested in a Koan story, it does not matter that the event depicted never actually took place, for one is manifesting the Wisdom in the Koan even if written by someone simply to depict that Wisdom.

    In the current Tricycle, Buddhist practitioner and historian Rita Gross recommends a wise middle road in dealing with what is clearly religious legend. She criticizes both those who insist on "Sutra thumping literal truth" in their religious stories, and also those who go the other way and insist that because something is "myth and legend" it is not true in another way, She is very wise:



    [S]uch a person [who insist the stories must be taken as true lock stock and barrel], if religiously inclined, would likely insist that it is only by interpreting the events literally that one can be a faithful and true practitioner of that particular tradition. Often, they will even claim to be better practitioners than those who focus on the meaning of the story and who discount the likelihood that the story’s more improbable events occurred empirically. On the other hand, another kind of literalist will reject the whole story outright as worthless because it is pure fantasy. In both cases, the modern literal interpreter may well be much more naive about the main messages of such stories than are those who hear them in a traditional manner.

    Religions, Buddhism included, are almost entirely about symbolic meaning rather than facts. Indeed, to have religious meaning, even a fact must become a symbol. Religious people have always known this intuitively. But in the modern context, we face a new and particular challenge, a different twist on the matter of truth. We modern people must differentiate clearly and carefully between facts and symbols, between history, which is an empirical discipline, and the traditional stories whose purpose is primarily symbolic.

    Many religious people resist giving up literal interpretations of their most valued stories, because they think, erroneously, that they must either accept such stories as factual accounts or reject them entirely. But this dualistic assumption is the most dangerous conclusion people could draw regarding the relationship between fact and symbol, between narrative and history. A narrative can be both true and false at the same time—factually false yet symbolically true. It is not at all necessary either to edit traditional narratives to make them conform to modern sensibilities or to insist, against all common sense, that unless they happened literally as presented they have no truth value. We can learn to interpret traditional stories symbolically while simultaneously holding a modern attitude of discernment toward the events they recount.

    ---
    While contemporary Buddhists seem to have little trouble distinguishing between literal and symbolic meaning in some situations, in others this flexibility is less often found. People seem to really hold tight to their traditional stories, for instance, when it comes to the various accounts of how their particular school developed. These stories are often highly sectarian and historically inaccurate, yet because they speak to issues of authenticity, they retain a great deal of dogmatic power.
    ---
    Seeing the difference between history and the stories of legend need not diminish the latter of their meaning and value. In fact, I believe it can enhance them. My own teacher, Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, told me as much, when she said that learning that many of her traditional beliefs were not historically accurate only made her think more deeply about their spiritual meaning. This is really the point. When we cease to confuse history and stories, when we look at traditional stories outside the context of literal truth and sectarian debate, we are freer to appreciate the imaginative truths they convey. When we fail to see the issue discerningly, such stories are spoiled in every way. They are not accurate history, but they are no longer good stories either. They become completely wooden as the attempt to take them literally robs them of all their whimsy, humor, and playfulness.

    Rita M. Gross is an author, dharma teacher, and professor emerita of comparative studies in religion. her best-known books are Buddhism After Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analysis, and Reconstruction of Buddhism and A Garland of Feminist Reflections: Forty Years of Religious Exploration.
    http://www.tricycle.com/feature/matter-truth
    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 02-24-2013 at 03:16 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  3. #3
    Senior Member ZenHarmony's Avatar
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    Zen is Ultimately Timeless." As Buddhism is Ultimately Timeless. Boy or girl, Indian or Japanese and everything in between, all just different tastes from the same Pot.

    Gassho,

    Lisa

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by ZenHarmony View Post
    Zen is Ultimately Timeless." As Buddhism is Ultimately Timeless. Boy or girl, Indian or Japanese and everything in between, all just different tastes from the same Pot.

    Gassho,

    Lisa
    This is so.

    Yet Indian Chick Peas Curry is not Chinese Mu Gu Gai Pan is not Japanese Teriyaki is not Yankee BBQ Corn on the Cob is not German Sauerkraut. All delicious and nourishing, yet all different tastes as well.

    And while curry is delicious, and teriyaki is delicious and sauerkraut is delicious, one should best be careful about how one mixes and matches them together in the same pot!

    Gassho, Jundo
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  5. #5
    Treeleaf Unsui/Engineer Kyonin's Avatar
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    - There is no doubt that some people, generation by generation, kept this Buddhist way alive for 2,500 years ... right to our doorstep. Even if we don't know all their actual names, somebody did so and the Lineage expresses gratitude to those forgotten folks. I mean, do you know the name of your own Great-Great Grandfathers and Grandmothers? Even if not, you should be very thankful to them for birthing and raising your Great Grandfathers and Grandmothers!
    I've thought about this sometimes and I really feel grateful with all the people who have kept Zen alive.

    Legends and stories are a big part of any cultural movement and I agree one must take them for what they are. There's a bit of truth in legend, but as it passes from one person to another, there's always something added.

    We learn to love legend and stories, but at the same time we must take it with a grain of salt and try to see through it.

    Thank you for this thread.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Please remember I am only a priest in training. I could be wrong in everything I say. Slap me if needed.

    The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Mr. Spock

  6. #6
    Senior Member Heisoku's Avatar
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    I am just finishing The Wayfinders by Wade Davis a collection of Massey Lectures on our collective cultural heritage and how these variations in our human journey are becoming homogenised through dominating westernised economic systems (Marxist and neoliberal). He writes about a wide range of different cultures and how their accumulated wisdom has been misunderstood or completely ignored for profit. He highlights how a loss of these cultures is a diminishing of the totality of our human wisdom knowledge.

    It is wonderful that Treeleaf is playing its part in keeping the wisdom of the Buddha alive and thriving and to echo Soko Morinaga, in a tradition that aims to enable every human being to live this life completely, in the most real sense, with satisfaction and peace of mind.
    Thank you for raising this topic. Gassho.
    Heisoku
    平 息

  7. #7
    Senior Member ZenHarmony's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    This is so.

    Yet Indian Chick Peas Curry is not Chinese Mu Gu Gai Pan is not Japanese Teriyaki is not Yankee BBQ Corn on the Cob is not German Sauerkraut. All delicious and nourishing, yet all different tastes as well.

    And while curry is delicious, and teriyaki is delicious and sauerkraut is delicious, one should best be careful about how one mixes and matches them together in the same pot!

    Gassho, Jundo
    Not quite what I meant, Jundo. The basis of all these different flavours of Buddhism is still just the same - The 4 Noble Truths, the 3 Treasures, the basics of Buddha's teaching - this never changes.

  8. #8
    Awhile back, in our "Beyond Words and Letters Book Club", we read through, generation by generation, a version of the Zen Lineage written by Master Keizan back in the early 14th century (the 'Denkoroku', A Record of Transmission of the Lamp). It is based on even earlier versions, stretching back centuries, each adding greater color and detail and drama to the tales. Some of the stories that result are so fantastic, filled with magic and miracles and mystery, that even J.R.R. Tolkien looks dull by comparison.

    Of course, tales such as these were written in times when magic and miracles and mystery were a bit more accepted as explanations for how the world worked. Also, one can see through the more fantastic elements to the timeless wisdom and compassion that the story is trying to convey. This ordinary life, when seen with clear eyes, is a magical miracle! You can get a taste in the story of the 18th Ancestor after Buddha, Ven. Gayashata and the Mirror, from page 107 here:

    http://books.google.co.jp/books?id=h...page&q&f=false

    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 02-25-2013 at 02:18 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by ZenHarmony View Post
    Not quite what I meant, Jundo. The basis of all these different flavours of Buddhism is still just the same - The 4 Noble Truths, the 3 Treasures, the basics of Buddha's teaching - this never changes.

    Yes, that is true as true can be, I feel. Thank you. I sometimes like to say this:

    [O]ne thing for folks to remember is that Buddhism did change and evolve over many centuries, as it passed from culture to culture in Asia. The Buddha lived 2500 years ago in ancient India, whereupon the philosophy passed to China 1000 years later, and then to someone like Master Dogen who lived about 1000 years after that in medieval Japan. You and I live in the strange world known as the 21st century. Certainly, some changes arose along the way in some important interpretations and outer forms. For example, the Chinese made Zen Practice very Chinese, the Japanese very medieval Japanese, and now we are making it very Western.

    However, the Heart of the Buddha's teachings ... the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, Non-Self, Non-Attachment, the Middle Way, etc. etc., ... All are here now as much as there then!!

    How?

    On the one hand some outer stuff is, well, changed. For example, when Buddhism came to China it was heavily influenced by, and pretty much merged with, Taoism (not to mention that it was already "Mahayana Buddhism" by that time, a very different flavor from the original). The result was this little thing we now call "Zen Buddhism". So, congratulations, we are already "Taoists" and "Mahayana Buddhists" ... not just "Buddhists". (In fact, the Mahayanists made a habit of 'putting down' the earlier teachings of the Suttas as the Hinayana 'lesser vehicle', though taking pains to explain that the Buddha meant the Suttas as 'remedial' teachings for spiritual slow pokes!) When it got to Japan, the Japanese added Japanese culture to it. In the West, we are now making some very good changes (although we have to, of course, try to avoid bad changes). These good changes include equality of the sexes and a greater emphasis on lay practice.

    But it is still Buddhism. What Dogen taught was Buddhism. What we do around Treeleaf (I do believe) is as Buddhism as Buddhism can be.

    What Dogen was different from Shakyamuni Buddha, who are both different from all of us!

    But when we are sitting a moment of Zazen ... perfectly whole, just complete unto itself, without borders and duration, not long or short, nothing to add or take away, containing all moments and no moments in "this one moment" ... piercing Dukkha, attaining non-self, non-attached ... then there is not the slightest gap between each of us and the Buddha.
    Last edited by Jundo; 02-25-2013 at 02:10 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  10. #10
    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    According to Ancestry.com, anyone with the sirname "Stanley" (my paternal great grandmother's maiden name) is directly descendent from a biblical figure dating 250 b.c. Which includes Joseph of Arimathea, a cousin of Jesus of Nazareth. But, I have a certificate in my Home Shrine that claims I am descendent from Buddha circa. 2500 b.c.
    Now, when you type "Arimathea" into this discussion board it suggests you have mis-spelled Aroma Therapy; which has something to do with smell.

    And yet, DNA evidence suggests we all originate from Africa : http://www.trussel.com/prehist/news255.htm
    We are all star dust,
    -Carl Sagan


    Who ya goona belive; me or your own eyes?
    gassho, Shokai, still learning the way and knowing nothing
    仁道 生開 - Jindo Shokai "Open to life in a benevolent way"
    Just another itinerant monk; go somewhere else to listen to someone who really knows.

  11. #11
    Thanks everybody, interesting topic.
    Gassho.

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