We continue with the SECOND TALK in Suzuki Roshi's talks on the Sandokai ... "WARM HAND TO WARM HAND", pages 39 to 48.
Let's start of with a Koan like question ...
This section of the Sandokai touches upon an ancient rift between schools of Zen, the 'Northern School' of Jinshu and the 'Southern School' of Eno, each with their own interpretation of how the Way should be pursued. Suzuki Roshi write
So here's the question:If you have the eyes to see or the mind to understand the teaching, you will see that it is not necessary to be involved in such a dispute. Because some of the descendants of Eno and Jinshu didn't completely understand the teaching of Buddha they got into a dispute. From Sekito's point of view there is no need for contention.
Jinshu's teaching is good, and the Sixth Ancestor Eno's teaching is good. Jinshu's way is good for someone who studies things slowly and deliberately, and the Sixth Ancestor's way is good for a quick, sharpminded person. ... A great teacher's way of explaining the teaching will be unique. But there is no difference in true understanding.
Does Suzuki Roshi mean that he'd approve of teaching Zen and Buddhism in just any old way, no standards, never wrong? Would he say that there are no misguided ways to teach or practice that, when seen, are worth to point out and debate?
I don't think so. (Here's a clue: perhaps it has to do with the perspective of the relative and the perspective of the absolute)
Just as in driving a car, there are many ways to do things, and ultimately, each has its own value as itself. However, we can safely say that driving down the wrong side of the road, headlights off and eyes closed, is probably not a good way.
Anyway, I will just leave the question there.
For folks who would like more on the actual historical background of the "dispute" between North and South (including the fact that several of the participants such as the Master Hui-Neng, the 6th Patriarch himself, and his famous poetry battle may be largely a fictional composite), this is from "A Dictionary of Buddhism" by Damien Keown; p. 200) ...
Also, please listen to this 26 minute film of Suzuki Roshi delivering various portions of these Sandokai lectures (I have not seen many of these excerpts before other than in this film. It was filmed at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, and also includes some biographical material on Suzuki Roshi. The talks on the Sandokai start at about the 10 minute mark in the filmA controversy that arose between two factions of pre-classical Ch'an during the early 8th century whose polemics centred on the positions of ‘sudden enlightenment’ (the ‘subitist’ position) (see subitism) and ‘gradual enlightenment’ (the ‘gradualist’ position). The traditional account of the controversy is found in the Platform S?tra of the Sixth Patriarch. According to this Chinese text, both Shen-hsiu and Hui-neng were disciples of the fifth patriarch Hung-jen (601-74). As Hung-jen was preparing to pass the title of sixth patriarch to his successor, he asked his disciples to compose a poem that would demonstrate their level of enlightenment (bodhi). All the other monks deferred to Shen-hsiu, the senior disciple. Shen-hsiu composed a verse which Hung-jen publicly praised while telling Shen-hsiu in private that it fell short of the mark. When Hui-neng heard about the contest, he instantly knew what to write and, being illiterate, had a temple page inscribe his verse on a wall. Hung-jen, hearing of this, said publicly that this verse was lacking, but late that night called Hui-neng to his room and ‘transmitted his Dharma’ to him, naming him as his successor and sixth patriarch, and giving him the robe and bowl of Bodhidharma as tokens. In traditional Ch'an literature, Shen-hsiu's verse puts forward the gradualist position while Hui-neng's expresses the subitist position, and Hung-jen's approbation of the latter's verse is meant to demonstrate that the subitist position is the true teaching of the patriarchs.
Thus, in Ch'an documents, the Northern School (the name given to the line of disciples coming from Shen-hsiu) is represented as teaching the position of ‘gradual enlightenment’. From a philosophical viewpoint, ‘gradual’ here does not necessarily mean taking an extended period of time to achieve enlightenment, but indicates the dualistic view that differentiates enlightenment from ignorance or practice from attainment. No matter what length of time one specifies from the beginning of practice to the attainment of enlightenment, it becomes ‘gradual’ only because the two are separated. According to teachings of Buddha-nature that had been current in China from the 4th century onwards, all sentient beings have the capacity to be Buddhas. Teachings of ‘sudden enlightenment’, which became standard doctrine within Ch'an after the controversy, posit Buddha-nature as an already fully endowed Buddhahood inherent in all beings, in light of which enlightenment takes literally no time at all, since practice and attainment are collapsed. Thus, on this reading, the Northern School adhered to a position of untenable dualism, and so fell out of the mainstream.
A historical examination of the controversy reveals many problems with the traditional account of both the events themselves and the views ascribed to each side. There is good reason to think that the two protagonists in the poetry contest, Shen-hsiu and Hui-neng, never resided at Hung-jen's monastery on Tung Shan at the same time. Furthermore, the Northern School's views on practice and enlightenment reveal a subitist position, while Southern School literature written during less heated moments frankly acknowledges the need to spend time preparing oneself for the moment of ‘sudden’ enlightenment. Ironically, during the Council of Lhasa held in Tibet in 792 to debate the subitist and gradualist positions, Indian monks argued the gradualist position, and a Northern School monk represented the subitist position.
In China, the controversy appears to have been politically motivated. Both Shen-hsiu and Hui-neng lived out their days peacefully enjoying great success in their own spheres. Shen-hsiu in particular had been highly prominent at the court of the infamous Empress Wu of the T'ang dynasty, and is one of only three Buddhist monks to have a biography in official court records. However, in the year 732, some 24 years after Shen-hsiu's death, a disciple of Hui-neng named Ho-tse Shen-hui (670-762) denounced Shen-hsiu's lineage for espousing a gradualist position and claimed that his own master had received and maintained the true position of sudden enlightenment. While he received a sympathetic hearing from some court officials, the Northern School had some powerful allies in court who convinced the throne to have Shen-hui exiled. He and his school might well have come to nothing but for the outbreak of the An Lu-shan Rebellion in 755. This rebellion lasted for many years and put a severe strain on the imperial treasury, and so Shen-hui was called back to the capital and put to work selling ordination certificates, a task at which he succeeded brilliantly. The court, in gratitude, granted him his own temple in the capital, providing him a base from which to recruit his own disciples in competition with the Northern School, which also remained active. His lineage was known at the time as the ‘Ho-tse School’, after the monastery in which he resided, but was also called the Southern School because of the southern provenance of his master Hui-neng. While neither the Northern nor the Southern School survived the persecution of Buddhism in 845, Shen-hui's rhetoric of sudden enlightenment became the norm for all subsequent Ch'an schools and literature, such that no master could espouse what appeared to be a gradualist position without fear of being accused of holding to a false dualism. In addition, the lineage of Shen-hui succeeded in having the mantle of ‘sixth patriarch’ transferred from Shen-hsiu to their own progenitor Hui-neng, so that all Ch'an monks from that time to the present trace their enlightenment lineage back to the latter.