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Thread: 1/4 - Prefaces, especially by Wright and Uchiyama

  1. #1

    1/4 - Prefaces, especially by Wright and Uchiyama

    Some folks asked me what "Opening the Hand of Thought" is about. It is about opening the hand of thought.

    Jundo

  2. #2
    Hey Treeleaf,

    Well, after reading the prefaces I can tell that we have a very good piece of material to work with here.

    Seems like we're in for a pretty earnest examination of the nature of the self, and all of it's various meanings.

    I appreciate Daistu Wright, shedding some light on the various Japenese terms for the self and helping to put its different uses in to context for us english speakers. It seems that there are numerous things that can get lost in translation. I'm glad to know that the translators of this book had such details in mind when they did there work.

    I was very impressed with Kosho Uchiyama's preface. I really got the feeling that he was talking right through the page. If the rest of the book reads as clearly, honestly, and so full of life we'll be in for a real treat.

    I've got nothing more to add right now. I cannot think of anything "intelligent" to say, just thought I'd share my feelings about this weeks readings.

    take care everybody & happy sitting!!

    Gassho,

    Greg

  3. #3
    I enjoyed the prefaces too. Looking forward to reading the rest of the book now!

  4. #4
    I've been without a reliable Internet connection for a couple of weeks now. Not sure when that will be fixed, so I may not be able to keep up with the book club at first. Sorry.

    I'm glad that the prefaces discussed the meaning of Jiko, otherwise I probably would have found the term "universal self" confusing. I wonder if "Jiko" was the term Shunryu Suzuki had in mind when he talked about "Big Mind?"

  5. #5

    Re: 1/4 - Prefaces, especially by Wright and Uchiyama

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Some folks asked me what "Opening the Hand of Thought" is about. It is about opening the hand of thought.

    Jundo

    Jundo,

    I have found Opening the Hand of Thought to be a valuable book, to which I've often returned. I look forward to discussing it with you.

    I'd like to question two general points in "The Theme of My Life."

    The first is Uchiyama's assertion that "the true depth of the East isn't a denial of human reason or a depth that must be hidden in an anti-intellectual fog," and that the "depth of the unlimited is beyond the reach of any kind of reasoning, but it is not opposed to reason." This is followed in the next paragraph by the admonition to "'understand with your own intellect that Zen concerns the true depth of life that is beyond the reach of that intellect." (xxx).

    These comments leave me wondering, first, whether "intellect" is being equated with "reason." Does intellect also include creative intuition? Lateral thinking? Beyond that, I'm wondering what role intellect, however defined, is supposed to play in the discovery of ultimate truth. To what extent, if at all, does "opening the hand of thought" equate with a devaluation of intellectual inquiry? With the surrender of intellect to some other faculty?

    The second point concerns the bold assertion that "zazen is the highest form of human culture" (xxxiii). In the context of what immediately follows, this statement seems to mean that zazen is the activity that leads to "absolute peace of mind," to being in a "big sky in which the many clouds of thoughts come and go." In this analogy, thoughts--even clear thoughts? grounded thoughts?--become clouds, which take second place to a transcending awareness. But apart from the height implied by the analogy, why should zazen be seen as the highest form of human culture--when compared, say, to music, or to poetry, or to drinking tea?

    Gassho,

    Ben

  6. #6
    Hi,

    I got a lot out of the discussion of Jiko as well. I think one of the points almost hidden in the preface by Daitsu Tom Wright is quite an important one.

    Or not getting upset because we have been asked to clean the toilet instead of our teacher's room, where no one will see what good work we are doing. (my italics)
    For me, that is really essential. If I'm not living in accord with the Dharma when I'm alone and no one is watching, then I'd be just playing a silly pretending game and spouting a lot of hot air. Well, of course that is sometimes the case. My New Year's resolution is to pay closer attention to my behavior and be more honest to myself about that when it does happen, in the hopes that my behavior will then change for the better.

    Gassho
    Ken

  7. #7
    Hello all,

    I plan to follow along with the book club as soon as my copy comes in! I ordered it as soon as you made the announcement, Jundo, but I was moving at the same time and it seems my copy got lost in the ten thousand dharmas somewhere. A new copy is on the way to my new address, so hopefully I'll be following along soon. I look forward to the book!

    Justin

  8. #8

    Re: 1/4 - Prefaces, especially by Wright and Uchiyama

    Hello Ben,

    Quote Originally Posted by Shiju
    Jundo,

    ...

    I'd like to question two general points in "The Theme of My Life."

    The first is Uchiyama's assertion that "the true depth of the East isn't a denial of human reason or a depth that must be hidden in an anti-intellectual fog," and that the "depth of the unlimited is beyond the reach of any kind of reasoning, but it is not opposed to reason." This is followed in the next paragraph by the admonition to "'understand with your own intellect that Zen concerns the true depth of life that is beyond the reach of that intellect." (xxx).

    These comments leave me wondering, first, whether "intellect" is being equated with "reason." Does intellect also include creative intuition? Lateral thinking? Beyond that, I'm wondering what role intellect, however defined, is supposed to play in the discovery of ultimate truth. To what extent, if at all, does "opening the hand of thought" equate with a devaluation of intellectual inquiry? With the surrender of intellect to some other faculty?
    I think my take on this might be very simple. I believe that some aspect of Buddhist philosophy are clearly open to rational understanding and suitable for logical explanation. However, it may not be the same "logic" we are used to in the West (this is what I am trying to get across in my daily talks on Master Dogen's Genjo Koan, where he presents many truths that may seem conflicting or illogical by Western standards).

    Some aspects of the True Self or "Big Mind" are about dropping logical categories and judgments, so this is kind of an anti-logic.

    Other aspects of our Practice are not best understood by logic or intellectually, but are experential. These I often compare to, for example, the taste of vanilla ice cream on your own tongue. That taste is absolutely real, but words and even poetic description will not capture that experience in the moment.

    Also, in our Zen practice, we live on multiple levels simultaneously, like the sides of a single coin. So, for example, while dropping logic and "creativity", we simultaneously can be very logical and creative on another "channel". There were many creative Zen artists who used creativity to convey something that is beyond creation.

    My view is very simple, so I do not know if I addressed your question.

    The second point concerns the bold assertion that "zazen is the highest form of human culture" (xxxiii). In the context of what immediately follows, this statement seems to mean that zazen is the activity that leads to "absolute peace of mind," to being in a "big sky in which the many clouds of thoughts come and go." In this analogy, thoughts--even clear thoughts? grounded thoughts?--become clouds, which take second place to a transcending awareness. But apart from the height implied by the analogy, why should zazen be seen as the highest form of human culture--when compared, say, to music, or to poetry, or to drinking tea?

    Gassho,

    Ben
    Everything is the "highest form of human culture". Even my simply scratching my nose is the whole universe doing so. This universe is certainly wide enough to contain music, poetry, tea without need to define which is the "highest".

    But, of course, our Buddhist study is about the nature of the universe, our place in it, and how best to live as human beings in that regard. So, from that perspective, it is something very important I think.

    Gassho, Jundo

  9. #9
    Uychiyama said:

    No matter how sincerely we practice, hardship is hardship. But simultaneously, we are in absolute comfort like the unperturbed sky and we do not need to think of our life in terms of difficulty and ease.
    Isn't that beautiful? I like his use of the word' comfort' here. Like Jundo said in his talk about ' holiday blues', practice does not turn us into superbeings who are immune to life's problems. Nor does it make all our problems go away. Instead, it makes us ' comfortable' with them. We learn to directly experience life as it is without interposing categories of good/bad, ' it shouldn't be like this' etc.

    Gassho,
    John

  10. #10
    Thank you, John. You are beautiful.

    Gassho

  11. #11
    Page xv gives a good definition of what opening the hand of thought is. This I think is starting with a good foundation.

    "Opening the hand of thought" is the very act of zazen. It is the original Buddhist practice of not grasping and clinging, the practice of freedom, as it occurs in this very moment in your mind.
    Shohaku Okumura mentions also something which I value a lot in listening to a teacher and following his teaching and it is of "relying on his teaching and not on him", "encouraged his students to be pioneers instead of following fixed traditions" and "let us choose our direction for ourselves"… (page xx)

    This I think is an act of confidence from the master to the student and this confidence gives energy to pursue the practice.

    I like also that Daitsu Tom Wright has taken his time to explain the concepts of self, so we know what Uchiyama is talking about.

    Isn't this Jiko or universal self the same as "Buddha Nature" or even "Buddha" as found in other zen stories?

    In page xxvii is bonpu zen mentioned. This is very actual, I think, because there is a lot of it today: zen coaching and stress-managing and so on. I agree in that it is always positive that people starts practising mediation but it is good to have in mind the diference of doing zazen with an objective and "unconditionally" and anyway I can't avoid being a little bit sceptical when this practice can be learn in a weekend workshop and even more when it is something one can just buy.

    As Gregor, I also had the impression that Uchiyama Roshi was talking right there. So close and down to earth. He mentions that he was in pursue of "my own individual lifestyle" and "true way of life" and that becoming a monk was kind of circumstantial, because it was easier to do zazen being a monk. It's like he is pointing all the time to this Jiko and, at the same time, leaving open the way you aproach to it and express it. And I think it is very important because many of us today won't follow the traditional path of becoming a monk and living in a traditional zen monastery but rather will make our life the place of practice and will leave home without abandoning it.

    I personally consider this practice as my job and although I don't wear robes I would say that I left home a long time ago. This is why Uchiyama Roshi's introduction speaks to my heart.

    Do you have your own version of a "Poem for Leaving Home"?

    And can you explain what "zazen" means? I guess it is not just a physical posture and that it does not only include sitting?

    Dear Shiju,

    The first is Uchiyama's assertion that "the true depth of the East isn't a denial of human reason or a depth that must be hidden in an anti-intellectual fog," and that the "depth of the unlimited is beyond the reach of any kind of reasoning, but it is not opposed to reason." This is followed in the next paragraph by the admonition to "'understand with your own intellect that Zen concerns the true depth of life that is beyond the reach of that intellect." (xxx).

    These comments leave me wondering, first, whether "intellect" is being equated with "reason." Does intellect also include creative intuition? Lateral thinking? Beyond that, I'm wondering what role intellect, however defined, is supposed to play in the discovery of ultimate truth. To what extent, if at all, does "opening the hand of thought" equate with a devaluation of intellectual inquiry? With the surrender of intellect to some other faculty?
    I don't think I have the means to answer properly to your questions, but what I try is to concentrate in "beyond the reach of that intellect"

    But apart from the height implied by the analogy, why should zazen be seen as the highest form of human culture--when compared, say, to music, or to poetry, or to drinking tea?
    Can't it be related to the first noble truth of suffering? To the impermanence of all things? To the fact that the Buddha left home because he was looking for a happiness not of the senses, not dependent of external things…? I don't know, this could be a subject of a long discussion because it pertains our life in terms of what we do with it and the place meditation has in it…

  12. #12

    Re: 1/4 - Prefaces, especially by Wright and Uchiyama

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Hello Ben,




    But, of course, our Buddhist study is about the nature of the universe, our place in it, and how best to live as human beings in that regard. So, from that perspective, it is something very important I think.

    Gassho, Jundo
    With this I completely agree. Thanks for your comments, which do address my questions. Your mention of the "many creative Zen artists who used creativity to convey something that is beyond creation" reminds me of Thomas Merton's description (in Echoing Silence,41) of a Zen brush painting as "a concretized intuition." I may have had Merton in mind when questioning the implied equation of intellect with discursive reason.

    David wrote:

    Can't it be related to the first noble truth of suffering? To the impermanence of all things? To the fact that the Buddha left home because he was looking for a happiness not of the senses, not dependent of external things…? I don't know, this could be a subject of a long discussion because it pertains our life in terms of what we do with it and the place meditation has in it…

    David,

    The question you raise here could indeed be the subject of a fruitful discussion. As Jundo has said, there is no need to rank zazen, music, poetry, and tea or to define which is the "highest" pursuit. As a practical matter, however, one must set priorities, and if one is an artist or writer or musician, that might at times mean demoting Zen practice or the practice of one's art to second place. If zazen is defined as the "highest form of human culture," then Zen practice should presumably take precedence under nearly all circumstances, and I know Zen teachers who feel that it should. But the premise itself deserves close scrutiny.

    Gassho,

    Ben

  13. #13
    Ben wrote:
    The question you raise here could indeed be the subject of a fruitful discussion. As Jundo has said, there is no need to rank zazen, music, poetry, and tea or to define which is the "highest" pursuit. As a practical matter, however, one must set priorities, and if one is an artist or writer or musician, that might at times mean demoting Zen practice or the practice of one's art to second place. If zazen is defined as the "highest form of human culture," then Zen practice should presumably take precedence under nearly all circumstances, and I know Zen teachers who feel that it should. But the premise itself deserves close scrutiny.
    Hi, Ben.
    My take here is that we are all at different levels and with differing aptitudes towards things, and zazen is no exception. The record is full of enlightened laypeople and deluded life-long practitioners and vice-versa. I'm not sure that a high pursuit necessarily impinges upon other pursuits. It may or may not depending on the person and the type of pursuits in question.

    Could this be one of the peculiarities of Asian languages? I have seen different texts use words like "unsurpassed," "supreme," "highest," "ultimate," etc for all sorts of different practices. I thought I remember reading somewhere (and forgive me, but I'll have to dig a bit to find it) that these ideas are often used more liberally in Asian language and that they should not be interpreted as meaning that all other ideas/practices are inferior . . . another one of those "mutually exclusive truths" sorts of things maybe.


    :?:

    Gassho,
    Bill

  14. #14
    At this point, I think of my Zen Practice as being as fundamental to life as breathing. It is something of ultimate import to my life, something that I pursue for life itself. So, we might say it is an "ultimate pursuit".

    In fact, my breath is just always there no matter what I do ... from morning to night, birth to death. It is there whether I am eating, sleeping, dancing, walking or standing still. Thus, I see no reason to choose breathing versus art or music, same for Zen Practice versus other pursuits in life. There need be no opposition or precedence.

    Of course, some music and art may be based on human suffering, and require a depressed, addicted artist and all that. Would Bukowski have been Bukowski if he had been a Zen Practioner? Certainly, it hasn't stopped Leonard Cohen (no immediate relation) from singing the blues ...

    http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?o ... ew&id=1941

    Some say that the secret to creating art and music is often in the breath, so are some forms of art and music born from our Zen Practice too.

    The universe holds everything in the universe without the slightest conflict ... creating, music making, breathing. One need not take precedence over the other. In fact, only the human mind assigns rank and import among the 10,000 things. One can do all, none or several at once. I think.

    Gassho, Jundo

  15. #15
    The book came in today, and I read the prefaces this evening during the graveyard shift.

    I loved Joko's warm style, but Uchiyama's clarity is remarkable. I very much appreciated his demystification.

    My thoughts are a bit jumbled at this hour, but hopefully I can sit on it today and come back with something a bit more coherent.

    I look forward to the rest of the book!

    Gassho.

  16. #16
    My take-away messages were two fold:

    First, we do not do this for rewards. I forget this so, so, so often as I am a product of my culture and I was spoon fed the reward concept from the moment of birth. If I do , I will get the guy/the job/the money/heaven.
    We sit zazen to sit zazen. What often concerns me is what I find when I look into my motivations for coming to the cushion: that I will get wisdom, that I will look cool, that I will get this out of the way so I can go back to doing what I want to do, so I can generate good merit and send it to my son so that he will not die in this stupid ass war. Sadly, there always seems like some reason I need to come up with to justify why I sit. I really want to work on this.

    Secondly, was Uchiyama Roshi's description of jiko with regard to the clouds and sky analogy. I have always translated this to the clouds being the self's thoughts/emotions and the sky being the Eternal - two separate things, and shooing off the clouds was the "goal" in order to become one with the sky.

    This explanation states that the two selves are not two because we are both clouds and the wide, blue, limitless sky. There is self and Self and they are one.

    I'm kind of mangling what I am trying to say because what happened in the reading of it was one of those unexplainable "a-ha!" moments that make one dance.

    In Gassho~

    *Lynn

  17. #17
    Lynn wrote:
    We sit zazen to sit zazen. What often concerns me is what I find when I look into my motivations for coming to the cushion: that I will get wisdom, that I will look cool, that I will get this out of the way so I can go back to doing what I want to do, so I can generate good merit and send it to my son so that he will not die in this stupid ass war. Sadly, there always seems like some reason I need to come up with to justify why I sit. I really want to work on this.
    Hi Lynn, I empathize, I too sometimes get tied up into ideas about the 'purity' of practice. Jundo talked about Zen Robots one day and I think it might be relevant here. I imagine that all humans, no matter how 'enlightened,' might say the same thing as you about motivation. Even though I think questioning our motivation is healthy, falling into idealism regarding our human shortcomings is counter-productive.

    I know this is unsolicited advice from a relative stranger, so disregard it if it strikes you as presumptuous.

    Later . . . gassho,
    Bill

  18. #18
    Bill, you are not a stranger; you are the "Bill" part of "Lynn," therefore your advice is always welcome and taken to heart.

    Thank you, friend.

    In Gassho~

    *Lynn

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by Lynn

    Secondly, was Uchiyama Roshi's description of jiko with regard to the clouds and sky analogy. I have always translated this to the clouds being the self's thoughts/emotions and the sky being the Eternal - two separate things, and shooing off the clouds was the "goal" in order to become one with the sky.

    This explanation states that the two selves are not two because we are both clouds and the wide, blue, limitless sky. There is self and Self and they are one.

    I'm kind of mangling what I am trying to say because what happened in the reading of it was one of those unexplainable "a-ha!" moments that make one dance.

    In Gassho~

    *Lynn
    I use the following to describe "Just Sitting" to beginners:

    I sometimes compare [Zazen] to a blue sky with clouds (thoughts). Clouds drift in and out, that is natural. However, we bring our attention again and again to the open, blue sky between, allowing the clouds to drift away. More clouds will come, same again. Repeat process endlessly, coming back to the clear blue sky.

    But one important point is this: Although we seek to appreciate the blue, empty sky between the clouds, some days will be very cloudy, some days very blue ... BOTH are fine. We never say "cloudy day is bad because there is no blue sky today". When the sky is blue and empty, let it be so. When the sky is cloudy, let it be so. In fact, both the blue sky and the clouds are the sky ... do not seek to break up the sky by rejecting any part of it. It is all the sky. Also, the blue sky is always there, even when hidden.

  20. #20
    Just finished reading the preface and this seems like a really good book. I can't think of much else to say right now - that hasn't been said already, I agree with many of the comments here - just wanted to pop in to say something so you'd know I'm participating too.

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