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Thread: 1/25 - The Four Seals (I)

  1. #1

    1/25 - The Four Seals (I)

    Hi,

    I thought to spend two weeks on this section (write me if you want to go faster).

    The first week (this week) we will talk about two of the four "seals": All phenomena are impermanent" & "Everything is suffering", starting from p.6.

    Next week we can discuss "All dharmas are without self" & "All things are as they are", starting from p.11.

    Does that sound like a plan??

    Gassho, Jundo

  2. #2
    Jundo,

    Might we begin with a discussion of "seal" in its Buddhist context?

    Uchiyama Roshi defines the seals as "principles" that embody the "true uniqueness of Buddhism." They "more or less summarize Buddhism" (pp.6-7).

    However, as Uchiyama acknowledges in footnote 4 (p. 173), there is some disagreement as to the number and the nature of the Dharma seals. "Traditionally," he explains, impermanence, no-self, and nirvana are the Three Dharma Seals, with the existence of suffering sometimes added as a fourth.

    This might seem to settle the matter, but other sources, such as Goldstein and Kornfield's Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, identify impermanence, no-self, and suffering as the three Dharma Seals (or, in their terms, the "three basic characteristics") and leave nirvana out altogether. In The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh takes issue with that view, asserting that impermanence, no-self, and nirvana are indeed the Three Dharma Seals, and that "any teaching that does not bear these Three Seals cannot be said to be a teaching of the Buddha."

    What are your thoughts about this?

    Gassho,

    Ben

  3. #3
    Hi Ben,

    Such lists may just reflect the various ways that individual minds cut up the pie a bit differently. Three of one, a quarter of a dozen of the other ...

    If there is a somewhat unique flavor to Master Dogen's (and thus Uchiyama's) perspective, it is this "All things are as they are". Many schools of Buddhism place more emphasis on "nirvana" with a flavor of somehow, finally, leaving this sensual world behind and realizing the illusion of "selfhood" ... that is the "nirvana" by which the conflict of "self" and "other" is resolved by the "self" and self-hood of all "others" being extinguished.

    Well, Soto Zen does that too.

    However, Dogen's vision was also that Ben's self, and all other phenomena of the universe, are thoroughly confirmed as real, actualized and seen to be "just what they are" in enlightenment. Each is seen to be "perfectly, completely what it is". In this way, the conflict of "self" and "other" is resolved by each self (far from being denied) standing self-sufficient, without conflict to all the others. The world is affirmed, not denied, and everything in the world stands complete and on its own terms.

    In this view, "enlightenment" would be based on a realization that, simultaneously, ""All dharmas are without self" and "All things have self and are just as they are".

    (And since that is "enlightenment" (or "nirvana"), there is no conflict among the lists after all, as "nirvana" is included!)

    Gassho, Jundo

  4. #4
    Hi guys,

    May I throw in my 2 cents on this one as well? On pg. 7, Uchiyama Roshi states the following:

    The first seal is that all phenomena are impermanent, shogyo mujo. The second is that everything is suffering, sangai kaiku. The third is shoho muga, sometimes glossed as all things and events (all dharmas) being without self. Maybe it would be be clearer to say that things have no substantial independent existence of their own.
    That does in fact perfectly agree with the 'traditional' definition from the Pali Canon, whereby impermanence = anicca, suffering = dukkha and non-self = anatta.

    The footnote on pg. 173 states however:

    According to Nakamura Hajime, the sanboin, the three seals, do not appear in the Pali Canon.
    That is not correct. The Dhamma-niyama Sutta from AN III lists them just as Uchiyama Roshi has described:

    "Monks, whether or not there is the arising of Tathagatas, this property stands — this steadfastness of the Dhamma, this orderliness of the Dhamma: All processes are inconstant.

    "The Tathagata directly awakens to that, breaks through to that. Directly awakening & breaking through to that, he declares it, teaches it, describes it, sets it forth. He reveals it, explains it, & makes it plain: All processes are inconstant.

    "Whether or not there is the arising of Tathagatas, this property stands — this steadfastness of the Dhamma, this orderliness of the Dhamma: All processes are stressful.

    "The Tathagata directly awakens to that, breaks through to that. Directly awakening & breaking through to that, he declares it, teaches it, describes it, sets it forth. He reveals it, explains it, & makes it plain: All processes are stressful.

    "Whether or not there is the arising of Tathagatas, this property stands — this steadfastness of the Dhamma, this orderliness of the Dhamma: All phenomena are not-self.

    "The Tathagata directly awakens to that, breaks through to that. Directly awakening & breaking through to that, he declares it, teaches it, describes it, sets it forth. He reveals it, explains it, & makes it plain: All phenomena are not-self."

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
    It sounds like Nakamura Hajime refers to the Chinese version as being 'traditional', whereas Uchiyama Roshi is sticking with the Pali Canon. (Also consider that it was most likely one of the editors who wrote that footnote and not Uchiyama Roshi himself.) As Jundo says, it doesn't really matter in what order you list them, however I think not including dukkha in the three seals would be missing the point.

    Geez, I'm really finicky today, aren't I? :roll:

    Gassho
    Ken

  5. #5

    The first seal

    Uchiyama says the lessons of impermanence come from clarifying what life and death really are. The point that resonated with me most strongly was his statement that what afterlife refers to is “the life that arises when one clarifies this matter of death.”

    By cultivating an understanding of impermanence as the reality of life, I can open up to a new awareness of life as it is. By shedding ideas about the permanence of life (not grasping at how it used to be) and letting go of any sense of permanence about my ideas of how things should be, I can approach life with a sense of freshness and freedom, responding to my experience exactly as it is, and as I am right now.

    And isn’t there a sense of interdependence between life and death? A fallen tree represents death. But a new tree can grow from the compost of what the old tree leaves behind in the soil. The old tree becomes part of the new tree. Even the past that is dead to me in a sense can act as a seed for the life that I create now.

    Regards,

    Janice

  6. #6

    Re: The first seal

    Quote Originally Posted by Janice

    And isn’t there a sense of interdependence between life and death? A fallen tree represents death. But a new tree can grow from the compost of what the old tree leaves behind in the soil. The old tree becomes part of the new tree. Even the past that is dead to me in a sense can act as a seed for the life that I create now.

    Regards,

    Janice
    We are going to be talking about something related to this when we get back to the Genjo Koan in a few days.

    Gassho, Jundo

  7. #7
    Uchiyama Roshi writes:

    What gosho or afterlife, refers to is the life that arises when one clarifies this matter of death. It means knowing clearly just what death is, and then really living out one's life. That is the most important thing we can learn from the first undeniable reality.

    This passage calls to mind Shido Bunan Zenji's

    While alive, be a dead person, thoroughly dead.
    Then do what you will, all will be well.

    This admonishment is sometimes translated as "Live as if you were dead," and in my understanding, it enjoins us to relinquish our dualistic thoughts and our resistance to impermanence. By dropping that resistance and acknowledging the reality of death, we enter the stream of life and death and become truly alive.


    Yet I'm wondering if others in this forum have experienced a disparity between the contemplation of impermanence, which can sometimes afford a melancholy pleasure, and the actual experience of loss, particularly the loss of a loved one. "Death is the mother of beauty," Wallace Stevens intones in "Sunday Morning," but that is small consolation to those who have just lost a parent or child. Even the Latinate impermanence, so often invoked in Buddhist discourse, somehow distances the reality it describes. So the question, it seems to me, is how our practice can not only "clarify the Great Matter" but help us maintain that clarity from moment to moment and day to day.


    Gassho,

    Ben

  8. #8
    Sure there's a disparity, Ben. I think it comes about because we don't ever really personalise the fact of death the way Uchiyama describes: when one clarifies this matter of death. It means knowing clearly just what death is, and then really living out one's life. There were 2 young soldiers undergoing rehab on a news programme tonight. They had both lost part of their legs from landmines. But they both said how surprised they were when it happened. That only happens to other people!

    Why is it such a 'shock' when someone close to us dies? Isn't it because we just don't grasp this fact of impermanence deeply enough. Perhaps we should remind ourselves of it every day to counterbalance the egoic desire to solidify experience. We could use TNH's 'Five Remembrances'.

    "The Five Remembrances

    I am of the nature to grow old.
    There is no way to escape growing old.

    I am of the nature to have ill health.
    There is no way to escape ill health.

    I am of the nature to die.
    There is no way to escape death.

    All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change.
    There is no way to escape being separated from them.

    My actions are my only true belongings.
    I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.
    My actions are the ground upon which I stand."

    Gassho,
    John

  9. #9
    Well, even though I am keeping up in the readings I am having a hard time finding anything intelligent to add to this discussion (as I did with the last section as well). That being said, I am enjoying reading your opinions, and the depth you are all going into this material.

    But, in the spirit of contributing, let me try to add something. In last week’s discussion it was discussed how we all live in our own reality, one that is born with us and that dies with us. ‘Outside’ that reality is the ‘real world’ that is not completely tangible to us. I have heard this ‘outside’ reality called ‘The Void’ as it is void of all labels, definitions, and the like (though not void of existence). I think I have this right, despite my use of ‘inner’ vs. ‘outer’ realities that are, in reality, perhaps not truly divisible.

    Now here is my question, do the 4 seals apply to my personal reality ‘bubble’ (for lack of better words), or ‘The Void’ which would contain the entire universe, including my personal ‘bubble’. The reason I ask has to do with the second seal; all things are suffering (dukkha). But for suffering to exist, something has to be resisted, and I can only resist something as it appears in my ‘bubble’. As such, I don’t see how suffering can exist in ‘The Void’. But if the second seal cannot exist in the void, this tells me that none of the other 3 do either. Perhaps this all goes back to the Prajna Paramita, that even the seals are without substance in the grand scheme of things, that all things, in reality, are both impermanent and permanent, with and without self, etc.

    Perhaps, in writing the post, I have answered my own question. I suppose I’m not so much confused as I am confused as to whether or not I am confused.

    :?
    Kelly

  10. #10
    Hi,

    My first teacher, Ikuo Azuma Roshi of Sojiji, lost his wife after I had known him a few years. For many weeks, he was not himself and was easily a bit teary eyed. I was SHOCKED because, of course, Zen Masters are supposed to have surpassed life and death and all such petty human emotions. So, as I had known him so long and we talked about anything and everything, I asked him about this, "If life and death are states of mind, why are you upset?" He said to me, "Life and Death are nothing; I am sad because wife die."

    That shut me up. He looked at me like it was the most obvious thing!

    Quote Originally Posted by Kelly M.

    But, in the spirit of contributing, let me try to add something. In last week’s discussion it was discussed how we all live in our own reality, one that is born with us and that dies with us. ‘Outside’ that reality is the ‘real world’ that is not completely tangible to us. I have heard this ‘outside’ reality called ‘The Void’ as it is void of all labels, definitions, and the like (though not void of existence). I think I have this right, despite my use of ‘inner’ vs. ‘outer’ realities that are, in reality, perhaps not truly divisible.

    Now here is my question, do the 4 seals apply to my personal reality ‘bubble’ (for lack of better words), or ‘The Void’ which would contain the entire universe, including my personal ‘bubble’. The reason I ask has to do with the second seal; all things are suffering (dukkha). But for suffering to exist, something has to be resisted, and I can only resist something as it appears in my ‘bubble’. As such, I don’t see how suffering can exist in ‘The Void’. But if the second seal cannot exist in the void, this tells me that none of the other 3 do either. Perhaps this all goes back to the Prajna Paramita, that even the seals are without substance in the grand scheme of things, that all things, in reality, are both impermanent and permanent, with and without self, etc.

    Perhaps, in writing the post, I have answered my own question. I suppose I’m not so much confused as I am confused as to whether or not I am confused.
    That is a "just sit with that" question if I ever heard one! So, just sit with that.

    I would perhaps offer this ...

    ‘Outside’ that reality is the ‘real world’ that is not completely tangible to us.

    Why do some folks [in reading you post closely, I think you did not mean that Kell] think our world is not the "real world" yet some other realm is? Is a dream real or unreal? Master Dogen called our world 'a dream within a dream', yet if our world is not real, where does Kelly live??

    I have heard this ‘outside’ reality called ‘The Void’ as it is void of all labels, definitions, and the like (though not void of existence). I think I have this right, despite my use of ‘inner’ vs. ‘outer’ realities that are, in reality, perhaps not truly divisible. ... , I don’t see how suffering can exist in ‘The Void’.

    I think you are on to something when you say "I don't think that suffering can exist in [that which is] void of all labels, definitions, and the like" Thus, in Shikantaza, we just sit dropping labels, definitions, thoughts of this and that, likes and dislikes, judgments, goals or expectations.

    But ... if void of "all labels, definitions, and the like", why are you thinking about 'it' with a label like "the Void", describing it as "inside" or "outside", or "both inside and outside", or "neither inside or outside"? Maybe it is a thing, maybe a 'state of mind', maybe neither or something else altogether beyond human imagination. Why are you defining it as "void of ... definitions". Why even put the label "exists" or "does not exist"?Why is your mind creating all these "labels, definitions, and the like" about some "Void"?

    Just Sit, dropping all labels, definitions, judgments, thoughts of this and that, likes and dislikes ... and you taste the ice cream in front of you instead of some distant dream of desert. :wink:

    Sorry to sound so "Zenny", but it is that kind of question. Eastern philosophers have gone on and on about this "Void" for thousands of years, describing its properties (or lack thereof). In "just sitting", we simply drop all labels, definitions, thoughts of this and that, likes and dislikes, judgments, names like "Void" ... and don't give a damn about some "Void". We are "void" of any searching fot the "Void".

    Get it?

    It is late, I am tired, and I said much more than I should.

    Gassho, Jundo

  11. #11
    Haha, sounds good.

    Thanks Jundo.

  12. #12
    Life and death . . .

    I don't understand the mainstream western viewpoint on it. How could it ever be such a fairy tale? But, I digress this thread is just bringing up some memories of things that were said at my grandmother's wake.

    Perhaps Life is just life and death is a part of it. What more do we need to worry about? To me death seems to take care of itself.

    We tend to over worry little things in life. We make mountains out of molehills and run around putting out fires and fixing problems. But for what? We are all headed for death. Why waste our precious experience here in this life being consumed by such trivial things?

    -------------------------------------------------

    Now that I've probably gone completely off topic I'll go and actually read the chapter, lol.

  13. #13

    Re: 1/25 - The Four Seals (I)

    I seem to be quite late with my notes and probably nobody will be reading this but since Jundo wanted our feedback on every part... :wink:

    The talk about life and death and what understanding of the undeniable reality of death can mean for living is a very heavy stuff. It is all so clear: we are all going to die. In fact, we are all dying every second of living! Some cells are dying and some are born all the time. Within seven years all our cells are changed and in a way we died and got born without knowing it :roll: . Yet, as John wrote in one of his posts, nobody expects something would happen to them! We expect things to run smoothly.

    I agree that realisation of the impermanence can change our view on life but is this realisation even possible when people (at least in the Western world) are afraid of dying and even talking about death? The other day I got a ride a ride with a few older ladies and one of them who is a talented potter and makes wonderful bonsai pots said she was thinking of making an urn (hope this is the right English word) for her ashes and that she hoped the urn could be recycled by the family. The three of us thought that was a cool idea while one of the ladies totally freaked out and said we were crazy of even thinking the thought. It seemed so macabre to her, yet she was the eldest in the car (may be this explains it :lol: ). It occurred to me that although she was aware of her biological age she was far from ready to think about death.

    A family member recently died in cancer, faded away fighting, resenting the inevitable, hating the whole experience, bitter. How could this be happening to him? Yes, how? I opened the morning paper today to see that about 9 000 people died in an earthquake in China, many are still missing...

    The idea of death is related to the idea of extinction. It is engrained in our genes to try to escape death by all means. Our bodies are fascinating survival mechanisms. This could be an argument for clinging to one's own body and life. Yet, what happens when I die? Do I stop existing? TNH in his wonderful book "No death, no fear" handles this subject with a lot of warmth and insight.

    I can still relate to the fear of death myself. It maybe that I am here by accident as Uchiyama says but for me the pain is quite real here and now when I drop a hammer on my toe (I should not be allowed around hammers for their own sake :lol: ).

    Sorry for the long post whoever might be readying it by chance.

    Gassho,

  14. #14

    Re: 1/25 - The Four Seals (I)

    Thank you, Irina, for your lovely comment. I am reading them all.

    Okay, I confess that I am having a difficult time to remember exactly what each chapter was about, because it was some long time ago that I read them!!! ops: ops:

    But I enjoy your comments even if I cannot remember what Uchiyama Roshi said in the chapter!

    Gassho, Jundo

  15. #15
    Senior Member Kent's Avatar
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    Re: 1/25 - The Four Seals (I)

    Hi Irina, i read your posts not by chance but with purpose and appreciate your perspective very much. Gassho, Kent

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