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Thread: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

  1. #1

    Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    From an blog article by Tricycle Magazine writer Dr. Jeff Wilson

    Sep. 27, 2007 Addressing Comments From the Meditation Thread

    At the end of last year I wrote a post detailing the fact that meditation is far from a common or universal practice in Buddhism; indeed, meditating Buddhists are well in the minority. Dogen is a fascinating character, one of my favorites. I've been exploring Dogen's thought longer than any other Buddhist master I admire His was anything but a "meditation only" approach, as some people seem to imply. In the USA, Soto Zen converts (as opposed to Japanese-Americans) do often meditate. But in Japan where Soto Zen is strong, ordinary practitioners rarely meditateócertainly their meditation participation is nowhere near the frequency of prayer among Christians. It isn't that you can't find Soto Zen practitioners that meditate, it's just that it is very uncommon among the laity and hardly frequent among the clergy as well. This is not something that Soto Shu has a gripe about--if you read their Japanese publications for the laity you find that they typically advocate morality and uprightness, rather than significant amounts of meditation practice. Nor is this a secret in Japan--ask any Japanese monk and he'll readily tell you that for most of his peers zazen isn't something they do a lot of every day.
    Here is the original article he mentions. "Dec. 30, 2006 Meditation: a Rare Practice"

    Soto, the school of Suzuki and the largest form of Zen in Japan, is only adamant about zazen in English-language publications put out for the consumption of Westerners who love meditation. In Japan, where virtually all Soto Zen practitioners live, Soto Shu emphasizes moral behavior, respect of elders, charity, and chanting in front of the home altar. Meditation is not a central practice and is generally only performed by a minority of the clergy, who are themselves a very small minority of members.
    In this article he quotes Duncan Ryuken Williams who states:

    When examined from this perspective, the Zen priest's main activities, which typically were praying for rain, healing the sick, or performing exorcistic and funerary rites, illuminate a different side of Zen. . . the vast majority of ordinary Soto Zen monks and laypeople never practiced Zen meditation, never engaged in iconoclastic acts of the Ch'an/Zen masters (as described in hagiographical literature), never solved koans, never raked Zen gardens, never sought mystical meditative states, and never read Dogen's writings.
    I found both articles interesting with a bit of curiosity in so far as it relates to US Zen Buddhism in comparison to Japan. Far for me to question someone who has in depth study of East Asian Religion & teaching Buddhism, but I do find that he may be over simplifying the notion that in the US non-Asian Buddhists over emphasize meditation or zazen in comparison to their Japenese counterparts. I just don't see it that way. I do think that US Buddhists see that Buddhism is just more than just meditation. Am I wrong in this pov of Dr. Wilson?

  2. #2

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Hi,

    I think the description in the article of Buddhism in Asia in general, and Soto Zen in Japan, is completely accurate. The conclusion of the article, though, is a little unusual.

    In a nutshell, in most places in Asia, people regard Buddha, Kannon and Buddhism just like Christian folks in the West regard God and Jesus, Mary and Christianity ... Namely, they pray to "Buddha in Heaven" to help them out with the worries of life, keeping them healthy, happy and prosperous. In Japan, most people have contact with Buddhism only when they hire a priest to perform ceremonies to make sure their deceased father or grandma has a smooth transition into the after-life. In Japan, as the article says, most folks know nothing about meditation, and most Soto Zen priests and parishioners are more concerned with performing those funeral services for a healthy fee than anything doing with meditation. The Soto Zen church in Japan (for it is a church, much like the Catholic church) has largely become a vast funeral business.

    In fact, the most popular sects of Buddhism throughout Asia, Japan included, tend to be those that emphasize chanting and having faith in Amida Buddha (or the Lotus Sutra). Amida will appear at the deathbed and take the faithful to Buddha-heaven when they die, if folks just believe in him. (sound familiar?) Other sects, like the newer "Soka Gakkai" (popular in the West) promise material rewards, including a healthy bank account, to those who chant the right chants.

    Where I disagree with the article is its conclusion, namely "[In presenting a Zen centered on Zazen, Suzuki Roshi] presented a new Zen that was in many ways utterly unlike normal Zen." [emphasis added]. That's not right. The Buddha was about meditation, Dogen was about meditation, Zen throughout the centuries has been largely about meditation over any other practice (this is changed, though, as it has become mixed with "chanting to Amida" Buddhism in China and Vietnam). In Japan, it is only over time, since Dogen, that the Soto Sect discovered that it could expand, and make money, by providing funerals and "pie in the sky" Buddhism. As the wonderful book, quoted in the article states ...

    [By the 16th and 17th century,] the Zen priest's main activities ... typically were praying for rain, healing the sick, or performing exorcistic and funerary rites . . . the vast majority of ordinary Soto Zen monks and laypeople never practiced Zen meditation, never engaged in iconoclastic acts of the Ch'an/Zen masters (as described in hagiographical literature), never solved koans, never raked Zen gardens, never sought mystical meditative states, and never read Dogen's writings.
    Now, the Japanese Masters who came to Europe and America tended to be, almost without exception, "back to our Zazen roots" reformists. It was true for Maezumi Roshi, Suzuki Roshi [I think the description in the article is wrong, especially for Suzuki in his later years], Katagiri Roshi, Deshimaru Roshi ... it is certainly wrong about my teacher, "Mr. Zazen" Nishijima Roshi.

    So, yes, "Zen in the West" is getting back to the Zazen roots that have been largely forgotten in Asia, Japan included. This is a major impetus behind my dream, to establish Treeleaf as a Western style "Zen Center" in the heart of Japan ... and return there some of what we have rediscovered.

    Did that answer the question?

    Gassho, Jundo

  3. #3

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo

    So, yes, "Zen in the West" is getting back to the Zazen roots that have been largely forgotten in Asia, Japan included. This is a major impetus behind my dream, to establish Treeleaf as a Western style "Zen Center" in the heart of Japan ... and return there some of what we have rediscovered.

    Did that answer the question?

    Yes. It does.

  4. #4
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    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    This is indeed an incredible thread. Thank you all... what a way to start a snowy Saturday morning... something to reflect on as I chop wood and carry water today....

    Last night I was doing some reading on Ch'an and Zen Buddhist traditions, and the links between Chinese and Japanese Buddhism (of course Dogen figure prominently here). Demographically, Soto is the largest Zen Buddhist community in Japan of the five houses... it was difficult to imagine large numbers of people engaged in "just sitting!" We have been discussing the close relationship between Unitarian Universalism and Zen Buddhism in a separate thread - there are several of us who are UUs or follow Unitarian Universalism and are practicing Zen Buddhists. I mention this because my father-in-law, a retired UU minister, and my wife, preparing for ministry, have both shared that a large number of people have contact with UUs or the UU church through funerals.... many UU ministers are approached to perform memorial services/funerals for families who are estranged from their "religions of origin"...

    Gassho,
    Alex

  5. #5

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Quote Originally Posted by HezB
    Very good thread. Thank-you both.

    Regards,

    Harry.

    I second, very interesting.

    I have heard it stated before (though I cannot recall off-hand where) that Western Zen could ultimately be doing Eastern Zen a great service by reviving and reforming the tradition; bringing it a new spark of life.

  6. #6

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Very interesting discussion.

    I have one nitpick with the author. It seems the author is narrowly defining meditation as zazen or some sort of vipassana. Isn't chanting a sort of samatha? Instead of focusing on the breath, they concentrate on the chant. They'll probably never move to higher jhanas (if I'm using that term correctly) but it is a form of meditation, right? If Buddhists chant at an alter regularly, they're probably a little different than most Christians. I think my Mom is unique in that she says the rosary regularly (which would be similar to a chant) to reach a sort of blissful state.

  7. #7
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    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    This is a really cool discussion.....

    There are at least two vectors along which we are progressing in this discussion (from my frame of reference at least)... one is the inward/outward focus of meditation / prayer (whether one invokes the memory/identity of an outward higher power... the rosary or the Jesus prayer... and the inward focus of Zen Buddhist meditation (one's true nature or original self). The other relates to the content of that meditation or prayer.... whether one recites a mantra, reflects upon a koan (rinzai practice), engages in insight meditation (Vissipana), or engages in "just sitting - Shikantaza" practice... where thoughts are observed but not pursued. I would recommend highly James Austen's book Zen and the Brain - he discusses changes in brain activity and neurological functions from the perspective of neurology, pharmacology, and meditative tradition (mostly Zen), and more interestingly, identifies the areas of overlap and divergence. He refers to Zen Buddhist as well as Christian monastic traditions / scriptural references.

    Alex

  8. #8

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Yes, this concurs with my understanding and experience as well. Rev. Master Jiyu was actually ordained in Malaysia, on her way to Japan, through a very interesting series of "misunderstandings." (Her understanding was that this ceremony was to be done in Japan.) So, her ordination master was The Very Reverend Seck Kim Seng of Cheng Hoon Temple.

    This connection was maintained and, many years later in 2003, we had a large group of lay practictioners from Cheng Hoon Temple come to the US (many for the first time in their lives) and stay at Shasta. They just could not get enough of meditation. And the day that they all got to meditate in the same hall as the monks, side by side, was so moving as many were in tears for the privilege. Apparently the laity's role in Malaysia, as in many Asian countries, is really a supportive one. They cook, clean and provide dana for the monks and the temples. Sometimes, as during the Rains Retreat in the Theravadan tradition, they actually run the temple completely (save for monastic duties such as any ceremonies etc.) But the practice of meditation just isn't there.

    I think that the above experience was really the first time I "got" how amazing it is to have the evolved practice of Soto Zen that we have here in the West. The practice of meditation really is the jewel within the dragon's claw. Each time we sit the jewel is place within our hands, just for the asking.

    In Gassho~
    Lynn

  9. #9
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    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Lynn,
    Thank you for sharing that experience... it was really beautiful. This discussion helps me really focus on why I am becoming a Buddhist (as compared to admiring from a distance), and furthermore, helps me address the mind "notions" I had in identifying with Zen Buddhism. Sometimes important traditions are preserved / rejuvenated in lands away from their original homes when political/social/economic turmoil makes the environment hostile to these practices or bodies of knowledge. Many Chinese practices considered "counterrevolutionary" were persecuted and practitioners intimidated, imprisoned or killed as the (claimed) scientific social method of the revolution replaced "antiquated" social structures and regimes (patriarchal, oligarchic, etc.) This has been the case for ch'an buddhists, taoists, martial artists (pre-wushu), political activists, etc. They have gone into exile on Taiwan, the United States, etc.

    The Western experience presents examples as well. When Byzantium fell to the Ottomans, the works of Aristotle and Plato (in the areas of mathematics and philosophy) were preserved (and further scholarly interpretation performed) by Islamic scholars in Lebanon in the 14th through 16th centuries. The Western church refused to protect Greek philosophical works and indeed destroyed them. Literacy at that time was still a privilege "granted" and taught by the clergy... We owe our knowledge of Aristotle and Plato today to Muslim scholars.... just as the the familiarization of meditative practice among the laity in Soto Zen may rely upon its Western practitioners!

    I think the topic of the resuscitation of important philosophical, social, and knowledge-based traditions in non-indigenous geographic contexts is a fascinating one where we are only beginning to connect-the-dots...!

    What a great Saturday morning discussion!

    Regards,
    Alex

  10. #10

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    I think I've read that article (or a similar one). I can't say I was terribly surprised that few Japanese Buddhists meditate. It seems like a similar phenomenon occurs in most religions - how many Christians can list all ten commandments? How many Orthodox Jews go to shul more than twice a year? etc.

  11. #11

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Quote Originally Posted by paige
    How many Orthodox Jews go to shul more than twice a year? etc.
    In my experience, most Jews who self-identify as Orthodox -- at least in the United States -- go to shul way more than twice a year. In the community I was raised in, many of the men went at least once a day; and many of them went twice a day. Nearly all went at least once a week. A lot of the women also went once a week. Other Orthodox communities I had experience with were similar.

    I think the once-or-twice-a-year thing is much more common for Jews who self-identify as Reform or Conservative Jews. That isn't to imply that there aren't Reform and Conservative Jews who are very involved and regular attendees; it's just that synagogues in those traditions seem to have a 'core group' vs. 'my family is associated with the synagogue' dynamic going on. When I was very young my family identified as Conservative and we went every week, but most of the attendees on any given week were family of whoever was having a bar-mitzvah ceremony that week, and didn't show up most of the time.

    --Charles

  12. #12

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Quote Originally Posted by TracyF
    Very interesting discussion.

    I have one nitpick with the author. It seems the author is narrowly defining meditation as zazen or some sort of vipassana. Isn't chanting a sort of samatha? Instead of focusing on the breath, they concentrate on the chant. They'll probably never move to higher jhanas (if I'm using that term correctly) but it is a form of meditation, right? If Buddhists chant at an alter regularly, they're probably a little different than most Christians. I think my Mom is unique in that she says the rosary regularly (which would be similar to a chant) to reach a sort of blissful state.
    Hi Tracy and all,

    My own wife, Mina, had never sat Zazen before meeting me (her family is from one of the chanting sects, Nichiren Buddhists ... Nam My?h? Renge Ky?, "Hail to the Sublime Law of the Lotus Sutra"). The average Japanese may encounter Zazen once or twice in their youth, on a compulsory school field trip to a Zen temple or the like. To most Japanese, it has the image of being a very difficult, strenuous and PAINFUL practice. The reaction of most Japanese when I say that I am into Zazen (apart from the suprise at the fact that I am a Westerner into Zazen) is about the same as a Westerner meeting someone who's into marathon racing or serious rock climbing.

    I agree with Tracy that chanting, rosary twirling, repeated bowing, swaying (in the style of Muslim or Jewish prayer) and the like can bring about states of samatha (which can be defined as tranquillity, concentration, mental one-pointedness, undistractedness, unperturbedness, peaceful and lucid mind). In fact, any hypnotic, repetitive activity can do so, and it does not only have to be a religious activity ... gardening, running, singing, dancing, flute playing and the like can bring like states of mind. I, personally, enjoy chanting (my teacher, Nishijima, says that chanting is not needed ... all that is needed is Zazen).

    Dogen's objection to chanting (and Nishijima's and mine too) has to do primarily with how this practice fits into the philosophy of "radical non-seeking non-doing". Shikintaza, to be "effective", is meant as a single, absolutely complete, totally sufficient, fully contained, one-pointed activity of perfect stillness (in body and mind) wherefore absolutely nothing is being sought or is to be attained, nothing to be added or taken away. It has to be experienced as the one thing, the one & only, required in the whole universe ... and as the universe itself. The attaining comes primarily from that radical attitude of not attaining, the finding comes precisely from dropping all seeking. For the reason, Dogen distinguished Shikantaza, not just from chanting, but from all other forms of Zazen in which something, some jhana or "enlightenment" or the like, is to be obtained. In his view, enlightenment manifests in the complete dropping of all searching for "enlightenment" ... which you can't taste if you are searching for enlightenment.

    So, my point is that it is seemingly harder to find that radical stillness and goallessness in any practice involving an action or a goal. Does that make sense? (Personally, I think it is possible to do so, but it is tricky. Imagine a tennis game: It would be a little like learning to play tennis while radically giving up all thought of hitting the ball or scoring a point). However, --if-- someone can pray or chant with the attitude of Shikintaza that I describe above, then maybe the praying or chanting is Shikintaza. Maybe.

    Another point is that, in our Zazen Practice, we must find all we need within ourselves, and there is no need to call out to a Buddha in the sky to lend a hand. In chanting or praying, there is the feeling that we are reaching out to some outside force for assistance. That also separates chanting from the fully "self-contained" and "self-sufficient" nature of Zazen. (Let me add here, for some Practitioners who practice chanting/prayer combined with Zazen, the distinction between "inside" and "outside" become a moot point. Still, I think it is hard to pursue Shikantaza philosophy in chanting if you think that you are chanting to someone for receipt of something.) But, if you can radically drop all thought of inside and outside, all need for assistance or anything else ... then maybe chanting can be like Shikintaza. Maybe.

    I say "maybe" because, gosh darn it, why would anyone need anything more than Zazen??

    Tough to explain. I hope the point comes across.

    Gassho, Jundo

  13. #13

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    This is a very interesting conversation. Thanks for starting it, chicanobudista.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    I agree with Tracy that chanting, rosary twirling, repeated bowing, swaying (in the style of Muslim or Jewish prayer) and the like can bring about states of samatha (which can be defined as tranquillity, concentration, mental one-pointedness, undistractedness, unperturbedness, peaceful and lucid mind). In fact, any hypnotic, repetitive activity can do so, and it does not only have to be a religious activity ... gardening, running, singing, dancing, flute playing and the like can bring like states of mind.
    I can attest to this in a few areas of my life: performing on stage, running, and saying the rosary. As an actor, when I was really into a role and really "being in the moment" on stage, I experienced this one-pointed-ness. I've also experienced this when I was running (of course, I was in better shape then!) and, when a practicing Catholic, saying the rosary. While the experience only happened occasionally (I certainly couldnít rely on it), I found when it did occur, it was an amazingly cathartic, almost transcendent, experience.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    So, my point is that it is seemingly harder to find that radical stillness and goallessness in any practice involving an action or a goal. Does that make sense? (Personally, I think it is possible to do so, but it is tricky. Imagine a tennis game: It would be a little like learning to play tennis while radically giving up all thought of hitting the ball or scoring a point). However, --if-- someone can pray or chant with the attitude of Shikintaza that I describe above, then maybe the praying or chanting is Shikintaza. Maybe.
    Jundo, just curious, could mantra meditation be considered shikantza if a true goallessness is found? When I was practicing Catholicism I learned to meditate via "Christian Meditation" as taught by the late Benedictine monk John Main: (http://www.wccm.org). He just taught a simple matra "Ma-ra-na-tha" (an Aramaic word meaning "Come, Lord"). He taught just to say the mantra, that's it. He said not to think about the meaning of the word, just say it, and eventually it'll drop away naturally. Can something like this (I guess similar ways of meditating are taught within the Vipassana tradition) be considered shikantaza?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    I say "maybe" because, gosh darn it, why would anyone need anything more than Zazen??
    I tend to agree, but it doesn't seem (at least to me) that meditation (at least the shikantza done here) will ever really take the world by storm. This is just a thought; I know we're not into increasing our numbers and getting more converts than other groups, but I mean Soka Gakkai, for example, has become pretty popular in the US, perhaps because of its pretty simple message and practice. And obviously Christianity is growing exponentially in certain parts of the world (for a number of reasons). So, I can see why zazen isn't really practiced in Asia.

    In the end, though, the universalist in me says, "hey whatever works, do it." If saying the rosary or chanting or whirling like a Dervish brings more peace and equanimity into the world, regardless of the motivation, then perhaps that's good enough.

    Gassho,
    Keith

  14. #14

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    it doesn't seem (at least to me) that meditation (at least the shikantza done here) will ever really take the world by storm. This is just a thought; I know we're not into increasing our numbers and getting more converts than other groups, but I mean Soka Gakkai, for example, has become pretty popular in the US, perhaps because of its pretty simple message and practice.
    I agree. Shikantaza is hard and I think people need to have a pantheist mindset to be able to do it right. That may be just me projecting myself.

    In the end, though, the universalist in me says, "hey whatever works, do it." If saying the rosary or chanting or whirling like a Dervish brings more peace and equanimity into the world, regardless of the motivation, then perhaps that's good enough.
    Exactly! Gotta run, I'm late!

  15. #15

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Quote Originally Posted by TracyF
    Shikantaza is hard and I think people need to have a pantheist mindset to be able to do it right. That may be just me projecting myself.
    Good call, Tracy. I've often thought that the pantheist mindset and shikantaza (and Zen in general) compliment each other very well.

  16. #16

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    pantheist mindset
    Ha. Maybe, but I wouldn't really say that. I don't think there is necessarily a prerequisite to sitting. The whole point is to see whatever mindset you may have. All kinds come from all places to the cushion. Sounds like an excuse to me. I'm not pantheist enough. Blah blah blah. Go sit please.

    btw off topic(if anyone can relate) one of the biggests barriers to my practice was my inability to relax. Yoga has really helped with that. No joke. I heard a quote recently that was kind of cool. Yoga's purpose is to make sure the body is healthy and strong so we can meditate.

    In Gassho Will

  17. #17

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Quote Originally Posted by Keith

    Jundo, just curious, could mantra meditation be considered shikantza if a true goallessness is found? When I was practicing Catholicism I learned to meditate via "Christian Meditation" as taught by the late Benedictine monk John Main: (http://www.wccm.org). He just taught a simple matra "Ma-ra-na-tha" (an Aramaic word meaning "Come, Lord"). He taught just to say the mantra, that's it. He said not to think about the meaning of the word, just say it, and eventually it'll drop away naturally. Can something like this (I guess similar ways of meditating are taught within the Vipassana tradition) be considered shikantaza?
    I would think that meditation on a mantra would tend to carry one away from just being present in the place where we are, although it might be very effective in inducing various intense states. For the same reason, we don't drop acid or peyote to meditate. In "Just Sitting", we are just in this world, in this life, which is ours ... even as we come to see that life/world in radically new ways. So, we just sit openly aware with our eyes not closed, right in the room where we sit.

    Quote Originally Posted by Keith

    I tend to agree, but it doesn't seem (at least to me) that meditation (at least the shikantza done here) will ever really take the world by storm. This is just a thought; I know we're not into increasing our numbers and getting more converts than other groups, but I mean Soka Gakkai, for example, has become pretty popular in the US, perhaps because of its pretty simple message and practice.
    Well, call me a cultural and Buddhist snob, but more people in America are also interested in Britney Spears, eating junk food and seeing Rambo movies, while I prefer Miles Davis jazz, good fresh food and some film with subtitles from Sweden. Religion is the opiate of the people, and most folks just want some simple message to keep them feeling protected and, god willing, healthy and prosperous.

    Sure, like jazz or classical music, fine cooking, or a good Bergman flick, our way takes some effort and intelligence, but I believe it is worth it.

    So, call me a Buddhist snob.

    Gassho, Jundo

  18. #18

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Quote Originally Posted by TracyF
    I agree. Shikantaza is hard and I think people need to have a pantheist mindset to be able to do it right. That may be just me projecting myself.
    W/o going to off-topice, what is a "pantheist mindset"? :?:

  19. #19

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    Ha. Maybe, but I wouldn't really say that. I don't think there is necessarily a prerequisite to sitting. The whole point is to see whatever mindset you may have. All kinds come from all places to the cushion. Sounds like an excuse to me. I'm not pantheist enough. Blah blah blah. Go sit please.
    Iím not sure what you are talking about. No one said that pantheism is a prerequisite for sitting. And what "excuse" are you talking about? I simply made the statement that I think pantheism fits well with Zen, nothing more nothing less. And I personally find it a bit condescending when you tell people to "go sit."

  20. #20

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    I would think that meditation on a mantra would tend to carry one away from just being present in the place where we are, although it might be very effective in inducing various intense states. For the same reason, we don't drop acid or peyote to meditate. In "Just Sitting", we are just in this world, in this life, which is ours ... even as we come to see that life/world in radically new ways. So, we just sit openly aware with our eyes not closed, right in the room where we sit.
    From my understanding, the mantra mediation Iím referring to (e.g., that of John Main and the Kwan Um School of Zen) has nothing to do with inducing intense states. Perhaps it has a little different "goal" than shikantaza (i.e., to quiet the mind), but I don't think it's about being all blissed out. And I think comparing mantra meditation to taking drugs is extreme and unfair.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Religion is the opiate of the people, and most folks just want some simple message to keep them feeling protected and, god willing, healthy and prosperous.
    I think you have a very elementary take on religion. And to keep comparing your views to high culture and intelligence and "most people's" to low culture and opiates is also condescending. This reminds of someone who has been hurt in some way by their religion of origin and can't see the whole of it objectively. I donít think itís a matter of you being a snob; I think it just shows your prejudice.

  21. #21

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Iím not sure what you are talking about. No one said that pantheism is a prerequisite for sitting. And what "excuse" are you talking about? I simply made the statement that I think pantheism fits well with Zen, nothing more nothing less.
    Not necessarily directed towards you Kieth. Sitting is neither hard nor easy. I heard someone once say be careful of the -ist and -isms.

    Nobody is condescending. It's your friends job to tell you you have food in your teeth. And who am I to say that right? What makes me so special right? Well, nothing, but will keep speaking when it calls for it whether you like it or not. Sometimes that's all that needs to be said.

    You know. People have all kinds of doubts about their practice. Why is my practice so bad? Maybe this isn't for me. I'm not pantheist enough. Well, go sit with that and keep doing that. Keep doing that until you stop listening to little doubter.

    Anyway, that wasn't directed towards you.

    Gassho Will

    Pantheist:
    the doctrine that God is the transcendent reality of which the material universe and human beings are only manifestations: it involves a denial of God's personality and expresses a tendency to identify God and nature.

  22. #22

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Hi Keith,

    You are certainly right here and I spoke without knowing clearly what you meant. What kind of mantra practice, specifically, are you referring to? What is being chanted, and what are they attempting to produce through the chanting? I might try to respond better then.

    Quote Originally Posted by Keith

    From my understanding, the mantra mediation Iím referring to (e.g., that of John Main and the Kwan Um School of Zen) has nothing to do with inducing intense states. Perhaps it has a little different "goal" than shikantaza (i.e., to quiet the mind), but I don't think it's about being all blissed out. And I think comparing mantra meditation to taking drugs is extreme and unfair.
    As to the following ..

    Quote Originally Posted by Keith
    I think you have a very elementary take on religion. And to keep comparing your views to high culture and intelligence and "most people's" to low culture and opiates is also condescending. This reminds of someone who has been hurt in some way by their religion of origin and can't see the whole of it objectively. I donít think itís a matter of you being a snob; I think it just shows your prejudice.
    I did not mean that all religion is a matter of such things, and there is all manner of depth and variety of approaches to religion. I was merely responding to your comment on why groups like Soka Gakkai do such a better "recruiting" job then do many Zen groups. The Zen philosophy is less approachable, and the practice perhaps more demanding. We certainly have nothing to clearly offer folks to compare with an eternity in heaven on one's death merely for having faith in a god, buddha or book (sure, we have "enlightenment" and such, but that it a much more nebulous concept ... surely not as immediate as the instant gratification of knowing one was going to get a golden mansion stock with virgins and free ice cream sundaes for all eternity.

    As I understand what most folks are looking for in their religion, and especially from the central message of Soka Gakkai and like groups, it is basically "prosperity gospel".

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosperity_gospel

    Soka Gakkai offers a similar message, at least as its initial attraction to new members ...

    http://www.sgidc.com/diversity.html

    Gassho, Jundo


    PS - Everybody be nice

  23. #23

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    I would think that meditation on a mantra would tend to carry one away from just being present in the place where we are, although it might be very effective in inducing various intense states. For the same reason, we don't drop acid or peyote to meditate. In "Just Sitting", we are just in this world, in this life, which is ours ... even as we come to see that life/world in radically new ways. So, we just sit openly aware with our eyes not closed, right in the room where we sit.
    Quote Originally Posted by Keith
    From my understanding, the mantra mediation Iím referring to (e.g., that of John Main and the Kwan Um School of Zen) has nothing to do with inducing intense states. Perhaps it has a little different "goal" than shikantaza (i.e., to quiet the mind), but I don't think it's about being all blissed out. And I think comparing mantra meditation to taking drugs is extreme and unfair.
    Keith, I understand your critique of Jundo's take on usage of psychotropic substances vis a vis mantra meditation. Nevertheless, I do think Jundo raises a valid point in regards to what differentiates shikantaza or Buddhist meditation in general as opposed to the usage of psychotropic substances to understand "our reality". If you are subbed to e-sangha, you will notice once in a while someone inquiring about the relation between meditation, psychotropic substances, and Buddhism. As if by coincidence, after reading your exchange, I opened my "Discover" magazine and came upon this interview:

    "The Discover Interview
    Wade Davis
    by Jessica Ruvinsky"

    [Discover Magazine - April 2008 - pg. 32]
    Did you try ayahuasca?
    Oh yes, many times.

    What is it like?
    You are flung into other levels of reality so visceral, so tangible, so all-enveloping, that they become your sense of the real world. And you suddenly realize that the relatively mundane realm of ordinary consciousness is a crude facsimile of what awaits in the psychotropic trance. This and other experiences in the presence of people taken by the spirit left me with visceral evidence that cultural beliefs can really make for different human beings, that there are other ways of knowing, other levels of intuition, that cannot necessarily be understood through the filter of Cartesian logic.



    So drugs do for the Seona people what sciences does for us?
    Not drugs. That's a pejorative notion in our society--cocaine, crack, crystal meth, whatever. These aren't drugs. These are sacred medicines. These are the facilitators. These are the avenues to the doorways of the gods.
    IMHO, it does raise a valid question. Why do zazen? Why do shikantaza? Are there "better" ways? What differentiates what we do from what someone else does through peyote or ayahuasca.

    Caveat: I do not condone nor advocate the usage of such substances. Just in case. :mrgreen:

  24. #24

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Wow, this thread has gone all over the map Some thoughts...

    From the beginning of the Western Buddhist tradition there have been many instances of Westerners re-introducing a revitalized Buddhist tradition to its country of origin. The story of Col. Olcott in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) is fascinating:

    http://aryasangha.org/olcott-prothero.htm

    On the topic of shikantaza vs everything else, one of the things I love about Zen is the way it almost comes full circle back to Therevada arhat practise - be a light unto yourself, rely on yourself - while completely integrating the Mahayana ideals of no-self, no-other, nothing to add, nothing to subtract .... ahh, its just brilliant. I LOVE IT

    But there's no one way right for everybody. But, I'd say, if you're going to do Soto Zen, really do Soto Zen and listen to the teacher....

    Skye

  25. #25

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    Not necessarily directed towards you Kieth.
    Okay, but maybe itís a good idea to identify to whom you are directing your comments. Since Tracy and I are the only ones who mentioned Pantheism, I think you can see why I may have thought you were referring to my post.

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    but will keep speaking when it calls for it whether you like it or not.
    Ditto.

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    You know. People have all kinds of doubts about their practice. Why is my practice so bad? Maybe this isn't for me. I'm not pantheist enough. Well, go sit with that and keep doing that. Keep doing that until you stop listening to little doubter.
    I really do not know what you're trying to say here. What does this have to do with my post?

  26. #26

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Two neurologists, Newberg and D'Aquili, recently did some interesting work with SPECT scans. It looks as though Tibetan monks in mediation and Franciscan nuns in prayer show pretty much the same kind of brain activity. So a bit more evidence for the "many paths up the mountain" view.

    O/T but Charles, I guess it's a regional thing - where I used to live in Toronto, we had a quite large nooj (Non Observant Orthodox Jew) :mrgreen: population!

  27. #27

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Hi Jundo,

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    You are certainly right here and I spoke without knowing clearly what you meant. What kind of mantra practice, specifically, are you referring to? What is being chanted, and what are they attempting to produce through the chanting? I might try to respond better then.
    I apologize for being unclear. I am aware that different schools of meditation in Buddhism and out focus on mantras or the breath simply to "quiet the mind." For instance, the Kwan Um School teaches one to think "Clear Mind" on the in breath and "Don't Know" on the out breath. I know in Insight Meditation, some teachers teach just to focus on the sensation of the breath on the nostrils. And I've mentioned John Main's Christian Meditation where they think that Aramaic word on the in and out breaths in equal syllables - "Ma-ra (in breath) "na-tha" (out breath). As far as I've read and heard, they seem very clear that's these are just simple techniques to quiet the mind, to just focus on the mantra or breath, and not to induce some altered state. It seems to me very similar to counting the breaths.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    I did not mean that all religion is a matter of such things, and there is all manner of depth and variety of approaches to religion. I was merely responding to your comment on why groups like Soka Gakkai do such a better "recruiting" job then do many Zen groups. The Zen philosophy is less approachable, and the practice perhaps more demanding. We certainly have nothing to clearly offer folks to compare with an eternity in heaven on one's death merely for having faith in a god, buddha or book (sure, we have "enlightenment" and such, but that it a much more nebulous concept ... surely not as immediate as the instant gratification of knowing one was going to get a golden mansion stock with virgins and free ice cream sundaes for all eternity.

    As I understand what most folks are looking for in their religion, and especially from the central message of Soka Gakkai and like groups, it is basically "prosperity gospel".
    Thank you for clearing that up. I agree with you here. Although, the ice cream sounds great.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    PS - Everybody be nice
    Aww, shucks. Okaaaayyyy... :wink:

    Gassho,
    Keith

  28. #28

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Quote Originally Posted by chicanobudista
    Keith, I understand your critique of Jundo's take on usage of psychotropic substances vis a vis mantra meditation. Nevertheless, I do think Jundo raises a valid point in regards to what differentiates shikantaza or Buddhist meditation in general as opposed to the usage of psychotropic substances to understand "our reality".
    I agree. It's a valid point. It's just not really a subject I'm that into.

    Quote Originally Posted by chicanobudista
    IMHO, it does raise a valid question. Why do zazen? Why do shikantaza? Are there "better" ways?
    I think it's up to each individual to answer these questions for him/herself.

  29. #29

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    By the way, I'm sorry for the multiple responses. I don't know how to quote more than one person per post!

    Hi Skye,

    Quote Originally Posted by Skye
    But there's no one way right for everybody. But, I'd say, if you're going to do Soto Zen, really do Soto Zen and listen to the teacher....
    I heartily agree. However, one must have a teacher worth listening to, one who the student can trust; and only the individual can decide that for him/her self.

  30. #30

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Hey Gang,

    I wasn't thinking about a Pantheist mindset as an intellectual construct. It's feeling the divine in Nature just as it is. No thinking. Just feeling/"knowing", whatever. Keith knows what I'm talkin' about.

    And so does Clint Eastwood: http://<iframe class="restrain" titl...="0"></iframe> or http://<iframe class="restrain" titl...="0"></iframe>
    and other assorted gold prospectors http://<iframe class="restrain" titl...="0"></iframe>

    :mrgreen:

  31. #31

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

  32. #32

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Quote Originally Posted by chicanobudista
    IMHO, it does raise a valid question. Why do zazen? Why do shikantaza? Are there "better" ways?
    Quote Originally Posted by Keith
    I think it's up to each individual to answer these questions for him/herself.
    Yeah. But since this is a discussion forum, I would really like hear what folks think. Otherwise, it would be the shortest thread on the Internet. :mrgreen:

  33. #33

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Soka Gakkai offers a similar message, at least as its initial attraction to new members ...
    http://www.sgidc.com/diversity.html
    Can Soto Zen beat that Cadillac and parking space!? :mrgreen:

  34. #34

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Hi,

    I split the "Peyote" part of the thread off on its own ...

    viewtopic.php?f=1&t=639

    Hey Keith,

    This is much clearer now. Sorry for misunderstanding.

    Quote Originally Posted by Keith

    I apologize for being unclear. I am aware that different schools of meditation in Buddhism and out focus on mantras or the breath simply to "quiet the mind." For instance, the Kwan Um School teaches one to think "Clear Mind" on the in breath and "Don't Know" on the out breath. I know in Insight Meditation, some teachers teach just to focus on the sensation of the breath on the nostrils. And I've mentioned John Main's Christian Meditation where they think that Aramaic word on the in and out breaths in equal syllables - "Ma-ra (in breath) "na-tha" (out breath). As far as I've read and heard, they seem very clear that's these are just simple techniques to quiet the mind, to just focus on the mantra or breath, and not to induce some altered state. It seems to me very similar to counting the breaths.
    Yes, all are good ways to quiet and focus the mind. So is counting the breath.

    The reason that we don't recommend such practices "long term" in our way, and do not use a mantra or breath counting as the central practice except for beginners, is that we are trying to learn to be "present in the actual world" even as we quiet the mind. That is why we sit openly aware to the circumstance and place in which we are sitting. We may be staring at a wall, but the eyes and ears are open. Then, when we rise up from the Zafu, we are supposed to learn how to "access" that same stillness etc. even in returning to the world of sirens and taxi horns, crying babies, blaring news headlines and all the other craziness.

    Some sects of Buddhism (and certainly many other types of religion or mysticism) chant to get to a wondrous place or realm outside this world we live in (seeing this world of ours as an illusion). On the other hand, some chant to ultimately live in this world while seeing it in new ways (which includes tasting some wondrous places beyond its superficial appearances and knowing that this world of ours is real ... and an illusion too!!). We are the latter type. It seems easier to do if, as your long term practice, you are learning to quiet the mind with the mind aware, the eyes open, sitting standing walking or otherwise just living.

    It is really only a subtle difference in approach. We think that just doing mantra work, or counting the breaths, never takes the training wheels off the bike. That's just our approach and there is nothing inherently "wrong" with counting the breaths and such.

    Gassho, Jundo

    PS- Sorry for my confusion. Some schools of mystical meditation seem to be using Mantra meditation to "be one with god" and such. Now, assuming there is a god (we tend to leave that an open question in our Zen Practice), we are doing much the same I think. We are doing it by realizing that there is absolutely no place else to go to meet god. Here is a short quote I found on the objective of John Main's meditation technique ...

    In Christian Meditation (published by the Benedictine Priory of Montreal, 1977) John Main explains the following concerning his teacher, Swami Satyananda: For the swami, the aim of meditation was the coming to awareness of the Spirit of the universe who dwells in our hearts, and he recited these verses from the Upanishads: "He contains all things, all works and desires and all perfumes and tastes. And he enfolds the whole universe and, in silence, is loving to all. This is the Spirit that is in my heart. This is Brahman." (p. 11) ...

    It is clear, whatever the case may be, that Swamiís understanding of the goal of meditation coincides with the Christian concept of the goals of prayer and meditation as a means to conscious union with the Spirit of God. The parallel deepens when the Swami explains the general goal of his life as the restoration of the consciousness of the Kingdom of God among his fellow men.

    http://www.johnmainprayer.com/history.htm
    We are "One", they are "One" ... is that different? The Same? Are we "One with God" "One with the Universe"?? Please answer that for yourself, and with god or Brahman, while I enjoy this cup of tea. I see the face I need to see (maybe god's face) in my child's smile.

  35. #35

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    I don't know. What's GOD spelled backwards= DOG. So maybe it's in Kvon's pooch. Kidding. :wink:

    Do we know it's GOD. Can we say with any confidence "this is GOD" ? What if we're wrong? I'll leave that to someone else to decide.

    G,W

  36. #36

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Hi Jundo,

    Thank you for the clear explanation of all the mantra meditation stuff. Makes sense to me. Much appreciated.


    Hi Tracy,

    Quote Originally Posted by TracyF
    I wasn't thinking about a Pantheist mindset as an intellectual construct. It's feeling the divine in Nature just as it is. No thinking. Just feeling/"knowing", whatever. Keith knows what I'm talkin' about.
    Yup. Nice description.

  37. #37

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Quote Originally Posted by chicanobudista
    Yeah. But since this is a discussion forum, I would really like hear what folks think. Otherwise, it would be the shortest thread on the Internet. :mrgreen:
    Yeah, I guess you're right! :mrgreen:

  38. #38

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    The reason that we don't recommend such practices "long term" in our way, and do not use a mantra or breath counting as the central practice except for beginners, is that we are trying to learn to be "present in the actual world" even as we quiet the mind. That is why we sit openly aware to the circumstance and place in which we are sitting. We may be staring at a wall, but the eyes and ears are open. Then, when we rise up from the Zafu, we are supposed to learn how to "access" that same stillness etc. even in returning to the world of sirens and taxi horns, crying babies, blaring news headlines and all the other craziness.
    I've certainly started noticing this effect in my everyday life, for instance last night I was walking to the library and waiting at the crosswalk and had one of those moments of stillness, or being in the moment, or however you want to describe it. There was nothing particularly "special" about the moment or the view or anything else, I was just there and it felt.... happy isn't really the word for it, but very... it just was, and it was complete, and there was no need to analyze it. It felt quite strange at first but actually pretty damn good. Peaceful? Joyous? Content? Something like that.

    Skye

  39. #39

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    Quote Originally Posted by Skye

    I've certainly started noticing this effect in my everyday life, for instance last night I was walking to the library and waiting at the crosswalk and had one of those moments of stillness, or being in the moment, or however you want to describe it. There was nothing particularly "special" about the moment or the view or anything else, I was just there and it felt.... happy isn't really the word for it, but very... it just was, and it was complete, and there was no need to analyze it. It felt quite strange at first but actually pretty damn good. Peaceful? Joyous? Content? Something like that.

    Skye
    Something like that.

  40. #40

    Re: Buddhism More Than Just Meditation?

    about the moment or the view or anything else, I was just there and it felt.... happy isn't really the word for it, but very... it just was, and it was complete, and there was no need to analyze it. It felt quite strange at first but actually pretty damn good. Peaceful? Joyous? Content? Something like that.
    I like to say "like home"

    Gassho

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