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Thread: The BIG question...

  1. #1

    The BIG question...

    Hello all, I have not been posting often lately, but have been lurking around the Sangha nonetheless.

    I thought I would break my silence to offer Jundo a deep Gassho of respect. I rather carelessly put myself into a situation recently in which I was asked:

    “Ah, so what exactly is Zen?”

    The question caught me off guard, and conjured only smart-ass answers like “three pounds flax” or “Mu”, none of which I feel I have the authority to actually say, not to mention how unhelpful and bizarre such responses would have been in that situation. It made me realise how challenging Jundo’s commitment must be, explaining Zen in a coherent manner.

    So what was my response? As always, far too much. I feel that next time I would rather avoid such a situation altogether in order to avoid the risk of doing Zen a disservice with my bumbled attempts to explain it. But is avoidance of this topic really the best course of action? I think we may have touched on similar topics in the past here at Treeleaf, but my searches were fruitless. I would not mind hearing the opinions of others.

    Gassho,
    Kelly

  2. #2

    Re: The BIG question...

    I think everyone might have a different answer to that question Kelly.

    I used to say: "It's hard to explain." well, because it is and we don't want to jump to any conclusions.

    You can recommend a book if someone really wanted to know. I believe we did have this discussion here previously.

    How about we rephrase the question to:

    So, what exactly is your Zen practice like?

    Gassho

  3. #3
    Treeleaf Unsui Dosho's Avatar
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    Re: The BIG question...

    Hey Kelly,

    I can sympathize greatly with how you felt, but I certainly wouldn't shy away from giving your $0.02 because it might do a "disservice" to Zen.

    I agree with what Will said and if I were asked would probably start with my practice, but emphasizing how vast that question truly is. All the great questions in the universe are often replied to starting with, "Well, it's complicated." However, I suppose in this case it might be, "Well, it's complicated...and simple."

    Just do your best and if they seem truly interested send them here!

    Hope that's some kind of help.

    Gassho,
    Scott

  4. #4

    Re: The BIG question...

    Ah, thank you both. Yes, I think you both have a good point, to start with my personal practice. At least then I only risk doing a disservice to myself .

    As luck would have it Will, we happened to be in a bookstore, and in front of the world religions section. I did indeed recommend a book that was on the shelf (Rahula’s ‘What the Buddha Taught’). I suspect I may have sparked his interest as he did walk away with the book in hand.

  5. #5

    Re: The BIG question...

    As luck would have it Will, we happened to be in a bookstore, and in front of the world religions section. I did indeed recommend a book that was on the shelf (Rahula’s ‘What the Buddha Taught’). I suspect I may have sparked his interest as he did walk away with the book in hand.
    Well, there you go.

    Gassho

  6. #6

    Re: The BIG question...

    Hi,

    For me: a way of living in the here and now, calmly, peacefully, kindly, (and hopefully,) with some modicum of dignity.

    Lora

  7. #7

    Re: The BIG question...

    Hello Kelly, thank you for this question/observation.
    I think if 10 people were to ask me about my religion/what I believe/etc. I'd have 30 different answers--at least 3 for each one: the answer in my mind, the words that came out of my mouth in the moment, and the silence.
    Silence is not a well understood answer in our culture.
    That leaves me with what goes through my mind and what comes out of my mouth (not always the same thing).
    There are times when my answer has considered what goes into the person's ears.

    The question 'what is your faith?' "what religion do you belong to?" "what are your religious beliefs?'
    Aren't these a koan?
    Mind you a teacher has never given me a koan (I've sat with rinzai groups, done sanzen with rinzai teachers, but never formal koan study) I did do work on koans which 'naturally arise in daily life' I shared these with my teacher at the time. (please note: I would NEVER say this is the same thing or could serve as substitute for formal study with a teacher.)

    In my experience, my answer to this question seems to most usually 'fail.' I said too much, I went into too much detail, I made zen sound weird.
    It isn't like I have a prepared answer. But even if I did, I can't guarantee that that's what would come out of my mouth in that moment.
    It has made me realize over and over that I really don't know what I'm doing or why. That doesn't stop me.
    The refreshing answer for that question seems to be an answer that comes through the mouth directly out of the silence: always a surprise to hear that answer myself, my questioner and I both for the very first time!

    Good thing I'm not a teacher, is all I can say (can't even answer a basic question!).

  8. #8

    Re: The BIG question...

    Well put Lora and Keishin, thank you.

    In Gassho,
    Kelly

  9. #9

    Re: The BIG question...

    Hey Kelly,

    Chop wood, carry water . . . just kidding, lol. Actually that's not too far off, I like to keep it simple cause I'm such a simpleton.

    I usually just describe it a form of Buddhism, then go into the Four Noble Truths / Eightfold Path those are usually great topics for discussion that people find a lot of interest in, then you can take it from there and talk about the specifics of Zen if they are interested . . .

  10. #10
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: The BIG question...

    I used to give pretty glib answers. To particularly devoted and intelligent friends of mine, I would ask them to find the 'I' they keep talking about. I'd ask them just what they were referring to and keep shooting down the answers. Usually they were stoned at the time...so it didn't annoy them as much as it might have otherwise. Also, we were all 18-27 years old, so we had a lot of time to really put it through the ringer. With one of my friends, I went through the whole 'what is that??' with a matchbook on the floor...and when he called it a matchbook, I started burning it, then stopped it and grabbed him and said 'now what is it??'. When he said 'a matchbook', I said, 'but it's now totally different. Does it serve the function of a matchbook? How could it be what it was when it's so obviously changed? If I kept burning it, at exactly what point would it STOP being a matchbook??' His eyes lit up and he just started sputtering. Then he said, 'Oh my God, I don't know...' and it seemed pretty obvious that this was the first time it had occurred to him that there weren't any clear boundaries on things as we experience them.

    I tried with my other friend to explain that when I touch a wall or a table, there is no intrinsic 'wallness' or 'tableness' in the myriad of perceptions that I experience - indeed, if I really look at the perceptions, I can't even find individual perceptions...they're vibrating all the time or they don't even seem to be 'there' when I try to focus my attention on them. Furthermore, I can't even really separate the tactile sensations of my 'hand' on the 'table' without all the other perceptions going along with them - the sounds of the night, or the TV in the background and that in no way could anything really be separated out from anything else if we were to strictly stick to reality as experienced (which is the only place reality EVER really can be). I could never get through to this friend though, because he kept trying to have a conceptual argument about it in intellectual terms in which the organizing principle of the mind, or the assumed 'I', was never removed. I could never get him to actually just examine his perceptions without organizing them - and so he continued to think that the organizing component was intrinsic to the actual experience of reality.

    For me, the way I experienced Buddhism (before I even knew it was Buddhism) was in terms of 'not-self' and dependent origination (although I didn't even really have those terms). I didn't even learn of the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path until much later. When I learned of the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path, I realized that these were descriptions of a path basically designed to allow one to experience not-self and dependent origination or 'coming-and-going thus'...or even...I dunno, even THAT'S saying too much because what's even coming and going when you really look, look, look?

    With my family, I've been able to make almost no headway at all...which is just as well, I guess.

    When trying to explain anything to philisophical Zen people (mostly those who don't sit), it's even worse because they REALLY think I'm talking about concepts and I can't find a skillful way for them to go to reality as they directly experience it. Even if I give explicit instructions, they somehow find a way to conceptualize it. Of course, some of them already know what I'm talking about - and so I'm just over-complicating it in those situations. And then others say, 'Oh, I know' but it seems pretty obvious they haven't really actually GONE there and SEEN it. It's almost as though being exposed to the concepts of not-self and dependent origination get in the way of actually realizing the experience of not-self and dependent origination.

    Or maybe I'm just always making a mash-up of it. I dunno.

    Chet

  11. #11

    Re: The BIG question...

    Here's one for fun:

    Guy: What's Zen?
    Master: Chop wood and fetch water.
    G: What?
    M: Chop wood and fetch water. Go ahead.
    G: Alright.

    -----------

    G: Ok.So I chopped wood and fetched water. I don't get it.
    M: Chop wood and fetch water.
    G: What?!
    M: Go ahead.
    G: Ookay

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

    About a year later and a bicep or two bigger:

    Master: What's Zen?
    Guy: Chop wood and fetch water?
    Master: Nope.
    Guy: !@#$%#^

    ---------

    Mmmmm...About 6 months later give or take

    Master: What's Zen?
    Guy: I don't know.
    Master: Have you been thinking about the question this whole time?
    Guy: Well, I did for a while, but then I forgot, and kept chopping wood and fetching water.
    Master: So what's Zen?
    Guy: ...
    Master: Here. Have some tea.


    W

  12. #12
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: The BIG question...

    A friend asked me about Buddhism once, very early on in my engagement with it. I paused a moment and figured I'd start at the beginning, with the basics. So I started talking about the Four Noble Truths. This completely turned this friend off, who found what I was saying depressing and horrible. Oops :lol:

    Over time, I think one, especially as one continues to practice, develops a more intuitive sense for how to address such questions. The main thing is not having some sort of prepared speech or systematic method, but starting with the person who's asking. Where are they coming from? What are their interests? What moves them? It's much better to begin by asking the person about what prompted their interest and what ideas they may already have about it. For example, you'd probably explain it very differently to someone who was disconsolate after a recent breakup and looking for something to make sense of the heartbreak, and someone who smokes a lot of pot and likes to contemplate the hidden meanings in Tool lyrics and was curious after Maynard said some really cool thing about Buddhism in an interview :wink:

  13. #13

    Re: The BIG question...

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    A friend asked me about Buddhism once, very early on in my engagement with it. I paused a moment and figured I'd start at the beginning, with the basics. So I started talking about the Four Noble Truths. This completely turned this friend off, who found what I was saying depressing and horrible. Oops :lol:

    Over time, I think one, especially as one continues to practice, develops a more intuitive sense for how to address such questions. The main thing is not having some sort of prepared speech or systematic method, but starting with the person who's asking. Where are they coming from? What are their interests? What moves them? It's much better to begin by asking the person about what prompted their interest and what ideas they may already have about it. For example, you'd probably explain it very differently to someone who was disconsolate after a recent breakup and looking for something to make sense of the heartbreak, and someone who smokes a lot of pot and likes to contemplate the hidden meanings in Tool lyrics and was curious after Maynard said some really cool thing about Buddhism in an interview :wink:
    Steph ... looks like you are trying to catch up on every posting at once! Go sit!

  14. #14
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: The BIG question...

    Sorry ops:

    I promise I'm done for now :wink:

    And yes, I need to go sit :shock:

    Gassho :mrgreen:

  15. #15

    Re: The BIG question...

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    Sorry ops:

    I promise I'm done for now :wink:

    And yes, I need to go sit :shock:

    Gassho :mrgreen:

    Hi Stephanie,

    Well I for one am very happy to see to posting again! Thank you for your wonderful post.

    gassho,
    rowan

  16. #16
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: The BIG question...

    Ros,

    Thank you so much for the warm welcome. It's good to be back here at Treeleaf. Sometimes I just have to drift away for a while, but I can't help but come back because the people here are so wonderful and the discussion so on-target.

    Gassho,

    Stephanie

  17. #17
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: The BIG question...

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    Over time, I think one, especially as one continues to practice, develops a more intuitive sense for how to address such questions. The main thing is not having some sort of prepared speech or systematic method, but starting with the person who's asking. Where are they coming from? What are their interests? What moves them? It's much better to begin by asking the person about what prompted their interest and what ideas they may already have about it. For example, you'd probably explain it very differently to someone who was disconsolate after a recent breakup and looking for something to make sense of the heartbreak, and someone who smokes a lot of pot and likes to contemplate the hidden meanings in Tool lyrics and was curious after Maynard said some really cool thing about Buddhism in an interview :wink:
    This sounds very fishy to me. Are we trying to describe Zen and Buddhism in the best possible light? Are we selling something here? Are we really trying to offer consolation to the heartbroken and cater to the philisophical?

    You see a lot of this in Evangelical Christianity - but I've always been refreshed by how absent it is in Zen - particularly Soto Zen.

    I seem to recall a tale about the Buddha and a farmer where the farmer complains about all of his problems and asks the Buddha to help fix them. The Buddha basically says, "I can't help you with this." He goes on to state that everyone has 83 problems and even if you fix one of them, it'll be replaced by another. The farmer is confused and annoyed. If the Buddha can't fix his problems, what good is he? The Buddha then states that he CAN help the farmer with the 84th problem. "What's the 84th problem?" asks the farmer? The Buddha says, "The 84th problem is the crazy idea that you shouldn't have any problems".

  18. #18
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: The BIG question...

    Well, the difference between what I'm describing and Christian evangelism is that I would only offer an attempt to describe Buddhism as a worthy philosophy and/or practice to someone who asked about it. I don't feel a need to convert everyone to Buddhism and actually think the world would be a pretty boring place if everyone practiced the same religion. But I do know from my experience that exploring Buddhism can be very rewarding, so why would I not describe Buddhism in the best possible light to someone coming to me with a curiosity about it?

    I do admit there's times I am very tempted to "sell" Buddhism to someone, when it's someone describing problems to me that I believe a Buddhist practice could help with, but I fight myself on these occasions because on some level I know it's inappropriate to evangelize meditation; someone has to come to this path on their own. The few times I have tried to proclaim Buddhism to someone who wasn't asking about it, I've always felt embarrassed afterward, and I've learned pretty quickly this isn't appropriate.

  19. #19

    Re: The BIG question...

    The few times I have tried to proclaim Buddhism to someone who wasn't asking about it, I've always felt embarrassed afterward, and I've learned pretty quickly this isn't appropriate.
    Oh I've done that too Stephanie & I cringe at the memory - however, well intentioned I was. ops:

    Kind regards

    Jools

  20. #20
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: The BIG question...

    Quote Originally Posted by Jools
    The few times I have tried to proclaim Buddhism to someone who wasn't asking about it, I've always felt embarrassed afterward, and I've learned pretty quickly this isn't appropriate.
    Oh I've done that too Stephanie & I cringe at the memory - however, well intentioned I was. ops:

    Kind regards

    Jools
    Indeed ops:

    Though my dumb ass will probably make the same mistake again somewhere down the road... and learn that lesson all over again... :roll: :lol:

  21. #21
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: The BIG question...

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    Well, the difference between what I'm describing and Christian evangelism is that I would only offer an attempt to describe Buddhism as a worthy philosophy and/or practice to someone who asked about it. I don't feel a need to convert everyone to Buddhism and actually think the world would be a pretty boring place if everyone practiced the same religion. But I do know from my experience that exploring Buddhism can be very rewarding, so why would I not describe Buddhism in the best possible light to someone coming to me with a curiosity about it?

    I do admit there's times I am very tempted to "sell" Buddhism to someone, when it's someone describing problems to me that I believe a Buddhist practice could help with, but I fight myself on these occasions because on some level I know it's inappropriate to evangelize meditation; someone has to come to this path on their own. The few times I have tried to proclaim Buddhism to someone who wasn't asking about it, I've always felt embarrassed afterward, and I've learned pretty quickly this isn't appropriate.
    You know, I have no idea what brings people to Buddhism. I came to Zen because it was very clear to me (after a genuine review) that it was describing a radical realization that I'd already had.

    So...maybe appealing to people by telling them that Zen will 'improve' their lives is a smart move. I just don't know if it's an accurate representation of Zen.

  22. #22
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: The BIG question...

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    I came to Zen because it was very clear to me (after a genuine review) that it was describing a radical realization that I'd already had.
    You are too f'in much :lol:

  23. #23
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: The BIG question...

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    I came to Zen because it was very clear to me (after a genuine review) that it was describing a radical realization that I'd already had.
    You are too f'in much :lol:
    What's wrong with that? Read my intro - I go into how I got into Zen.

    Do you not believe one can have an independent kensho experience before being introduced to Zen?

  24. #24
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: The BIG question...

    Sure, absolutely. It's just that cockiness of yours. I love it.

  25. #25
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: The BIG question...

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    Sure, absolutely. It's just that cockiness of yours. I love it.
    I don't really see that as cocky.

    When you see something very clearly, you have few doubts about what you saw. I have many, many doubts about many, many other things. I have no doubt about the core teachings of Zen Buddhism.

  26. #26

    Re: The BIG question...

    Everyone ... please relax, calm, find natural balance .... know silence.

    Do not lose peace and balance in discussing how to explain peace and balance. Do not throw words at the subject of "explaining".

    The best way, I feel, to explain our practice to friends and relatives is just by how we live, how we act in situations. Like RIGHT NOW.

    Gassho, Jundo

  27. #27
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: The BIG question...

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    Sure, absolutely. It's just that cockiness of yours. I love it.
    I don't really see that as cocky.

    When you see something very clearly, you have few doubts about what you saw. I have many, many doubts about many, many other things. I have no doubt about the core teachings of Zen Buddhism.
    It's not what you say, it's how you say it. I can't really describe it to you, just... look at your posts as if you weren't you, and think of how someone who doesn't know you might "hear" what you say. Not that I'm saying that I think it's a problem or that you should correct it, mind you. I find it entertaining. It just seems to be part of your personality, and it's nice when people have personalities

  28. #28
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: The BIG question...

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    Sure, absolutely. It's just that cockiness of yours. I love it.
    I don't really see that as cocky.

    When you see something very clearly, you have few doubts about what you saw. I have many, many doubts about many, many other things. I have no doubt about the core teachings of Zen Buddhism.
    It's not what you say, it's how you say it. I can't really describe it to you, just... look at your posts as if you weren't you, and think of how someone who doesn't know you might "hear" what you say. Not that I'm saying that I think it's a problem or that you should correct it, mind you. I find it entertaining. It just seems to be part of your personality, and it's nice when people have personalities
    My girlfriend HATES it.

  29. #29
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: The BIG question...

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    My girlfriend HATES it.
    Maybe, but I bet it's more like she love/hates it :mrgreen:

  30. #30
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: The BIG question...

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    My girlfriend HATES it.
    Maybe, but I bet it's more like she love/hates it :mrgreen:
    Naw. Just hates it.

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