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Thread: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

  1. #1

    Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    At our sangha, we are currently reading "Mindfulness In Plain English" by Ven. Henepola Gunaratana. At this point, we are currently on Ch. 3 ("What Meditation Is"). He proceeds to give brief descriptions of different meditational practices, Buddhist and non-Buddhist.

    He gets to the Zen part and describes it as such:

    All Buddhist meditation aims at the development of awareness, using concentration as a tool. The Buddhist tradition is very wide, however, and there are several diverse routes to this goal. Zen meditation uses two separate tacks. The first is the direct plunge into awareness by sheer force of will. You sit down and you just sit, meaning that you toss out of your mind everything except pure awareness of sitting. This sounds very simple. It is not. A brief trial will demonstrate just how difficult it really is. The second Zen approach used in the Rinzai school is that of tricking the mind out of conscious thought and into pure awareness. This is done by giving the student an unsolvable riddle which he must solve anyway, and by placing him in a horrendous training situation. Since he cannot flee from the pain of the situation, he must flee into a pure experience of the moment. There is nowhere else to go. Zen is tough. It is effective for many people, but it is really tough.
    I am kind of flattered in a macho way that my practice is tough. :P

    I understand he is writing a popular book on meditation and is writing a very brief description since the main point of the book is vipassana meditation. Also, I know he is not writing to demean Zen. Nevertheless, I feel this passage somehow gets it half-right.

    Am I reading wrong his Zen meditation practice description? :|

  2. #2

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    Having been called myself from time to time by folks for misdescribing aspects of the vipassana tradition (and yesterday, the Koan Zen tradition), well, it is always hard for someone to fully describe the other guy's game when you don't play it. That's all.

  3. #3

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    I think this is what makes it tough:


    :P

  4. #4

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    Let me add that meditation comes in as many flavors as the Zoo has animals. So, there are many flavors that make a more aggressive effort to "empty the mind" of its contents. Even for the "Just Sitting" Shikantaza form of meditation, I believe that Yasutani Roshi (root of the Sanbo Kyodan, Diamond Sangha, White Plum and others), who was the "Big Explosive Kensho" teacher who mixed Rinzai and Soto practices, emphasized a more "sweat pouring down your brow" species of Shikantaza. Please read his essay on Page 51 to 53 of this book

    http://books.google.com/books?id=k6O9Sv ... t#PPA52,M1

    also viewable here (you can search the word "Yasutani) ...

    http://www.amazon.com/Art-Just-Sitting- ... 086171394X

    We don't push the (thought) tiger out of the cage by confronting him head on, but just let him wander out naturally though the wide open door. He will wander out whenever he wanders in and, anyway, in the end, we need to realize that the tiger is not our enemy.

    (If you have not guessed, I am taking Leon to the Zoo today).

    Yasutani Roshi's approach to Shikantaza is not "main stream" in Soto Zen world, and I often compare it to two Ai-ki-do groups that my wife attends here in Tsukuba. Ai-ki-do is a martial art that uses the opponents own power to throw the opponent (as opposed to a frontal attack). However, one group is surprisingly gentle, almost like a dance, while the other is very forceful about it.

    Both tame the tiger. But, in our way, in the end, we must realize that the tiger is not our enemy.

    Gassho, J

  5. #5
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    I think some of us let the tiger tame us and fool ourselves about the nature of the relationship!

    Chet

  6. #6

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    I have read that book several times. It's great.

    Bhante G also describes in the book that vipassana is tough. A lot of times, his message is, VERY roughly paraphrased, "suck it up and do it and don't let the little things stop you, you baby." (I'm pretty sure that the "baby" part is not a part of the message, but I see it when I read the book.)

    As he says at the first of the book, it takes gumption. It takes "toughness," in a sense.

  7. #7
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    Quote Originally Posted by Brock
    I have read that book several times. It's great.

    Bhante G also describes in the book that vipassana is tough. A lot of times, his message is, VERY roughly paraphrased, "suck it up and do it and don't let the little things stop you, you baby." (I'm pretty sure that the "baby" part is not a part of the message, but I see it when I read the book.)

    As he says at the first of the book, it takes gumption. It takes "toughness," in a sense.
    I think what's interesting about the Buddhist path, both in Zen and Vipassana - is that you have to really want to know the truth. I have often thought that Zen was for the truly hopeless - those among us who can no longer fool ourselves into believing that any achieved state or conditioned situation can lead to lasting happiness. Why else would anyone tolerate such a seemingly harsh and cold religion? It offers no heaven and frequently states that its own methods lead 'nowhere'.

    In that way, I guess it could be said to be 'hard'. In truth though, it is harder on us the harder we cling.

    Both Zen and Vipassana coax us into opening our eyes.

    IMHO, IANAT.

    Chet

  8. #8

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    It offers no heaven and frequently states that its own methods lead 'nowhere'.
    As you know so well, Chet, 'nowhere' ain't just 'nowhere'

  9. #9
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    It offers no heaven and frequently states that its own methods lead 'nowhere'.
    As you know so well, Chet, 'nowhere' ain't just 'nowhere'
    Right. But it isn't a magical, mystical place.

    Oh wait. I take that back.

    Chet

  10. #10

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    We don't push the (thought) tiger out of the cage by confronting him head on, but just let him wander out naturally though the wide open door. He will wander out whenever he wanders in and, anyway, in the end, we need to realize that the tiger is not our enemy.
    That about sums it up.

    And if we actually look at a real tiger in the wild, we might learn something

    Gassho

  11. #11

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    We don't push the (thought) tiger out of the cage by confronting him head on, but just let him wander out naturally though the wide open door. He will wander out whenever he wanders in and, anyway, in the end, we need to realize that the tiger is not our enemy.
    That about sums it up.

    And if we actually look at a real tiger in the wild, we might learn something

    Gassho
    Look in the mirror. There is not so much difference.

    Gassho,
    Dave

  12. #12

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    And then the lion said to the tea cup. "Where are you going Mr. Gravy?"

    W

  13. #13
    Treeleaf Unsui Dosho's Avatar
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    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    Zen meditation uses two separate tacks. The first is the direct plunge into awareness by sheer force of will. You sit down and you just sit, meaning that you toss out of your mind everything except pure awareness of sitting.
    This is how I looked at shikantaza for the first couple months I was at Treeleaf and it was only after I let go of the "toss out" part that I began to understand. Next comes letting go of the "understand" part.

  14. #14

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    And then the lion said to the tea cup. "Where are you going Mr. Gravy?"

    W
    Something tells me you would be great with children's stories Bottoms up!

    Zen is tough. Anyone who has dropped ego or at least come close can attest to that. Honesty is tough, and Zen makes you see what you don't want to within yourself, be it tiger or mouse.

    Gassho,
    Dave

  15. #15
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    Quote Originally Posted by humblepie
    Quote Originally Posted by will
    And then the lion said to the tea cup. "Where are you going Mr. Gravy?"

    W
    Something tells me you would be great with children's stories Bottoms up!

    Zen is tough. Anyone who has dropped ego or at least come close can attest to that. Honesty is tough, and Zen makes you see what you don't want to within yourself, be it tiger or mouse.

    Gassho,
    Dave
    Dave,

    I think you'll get to a place where it will finally dawn on you that no matter how difficult honesty may be - it's dishonestly and self-deception that are actually so much harder. And then the whole thing - all of life, really - gets much easier.

    Chet

  16. #16
    Treeleaf Unsui rculver's Avatar
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    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    When you run after your thoughts, you are like a dog chasing a stick: every time a stick is thrown, you run after it. Instead, be like a lion who, rather than chasing after the stick, turns to face the thrower. One only throws a stick at a lion once."
    - Milarepa
    wild mind

  17. #17

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    he second Zen approach used in the Rinzai school is that of tricking the mind out of conscious thought and into pure awareness. This is done by giving the student an unsolvable riddle which he must solve anyway, and by placing him in a horrendous training situation. Since he cannot flee from the pain of the situation, he must flee into a pure experience of the moment. There is nowhere else to go.
    HI all,

    This states a common misconception about koans, that they are simply nonsense. From my experience doing koan study in the Kwan Um (Seung Sahn) tradition, each koan is very directly about a very specific "piece" of understanding. They are neither random nor illogical.

    gassho,
    rowan

  18. #18

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    They are either random nor illogical.
    They are "neither" random nor illogical.

    I think you meant to say.


    Gassho

    Will

  19. #19

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    They are either random nor illogical.
    They are "neither" random nor illogical.

    I think you meant to say.


    Gassho

    Will
    thanks, Will! I tried to correct it but ended up with a duplicate entry.

    r

  20. #20

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    They are "neither" random nor illogical.

    Same when a Soto teacher approaches a Koan, for example Master Dogen. However, it may be a "logic" all its own, or something beyond discursive or analytical reasoning.

    In fact, the only real difference between the so-called "Soto" approach to Koans, and what may be found in the Kwan Um or Japanese Rinzai schools is that, in Soto, the Koans are not necessarily approached as a curriculum that must be passed (same for the Harada-Yasutani lineage, which is a mixture of Soto and Rinzai practices).

    http://books.google.com/books?id=-kut6g ... &ct=result

    and we do not hold on to, or focus our efforts into, or seek to pierce the Koan during Zazen (apart from the Genjo Koan, which might be thought of as the Koan right before our eyes, and which is our eyes too). In Soto, Koans are approached with a pliant Zazen mind, but off the cushion proper.

    Many paths up the mountain. Anyway, what mountain?

    Gassho, Jundo

  21. #21
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    They are "neither" random nor illogical.

    Same when a Soto teacher approaches a Koan, for example Master Dogen. However, it may be a "logic" all its own, or something beyond discursive or analytical reasoning.

    In fact, the only real difference between the so-called "Soto" approach to Koans, and what may be found in the Kwan Um or Japanese Rinzai schools is that, in Soto, the Koans are not necessarily approached as a curriculum that must be passed (same for the Harada-Yasutani lineage, which is a mixture of Soto and Rinzai practices).

    http://books.google.com/books?id=-kut6g ... &ct=result

    and we do not hold on to, or focus our efforts into, or seek to pierce the Koan during Zazen (apart from the Genjo Koan, which might be thought of a the Koan right before our eyes, and which is our eyes too). In Soto, Koans are approached with a pliant Zazen mind, but off the cushion proper.

    Many paths up the mountain. Anyway, what mountain?

    Gassho, Jundo
    And yet, the koans open gently and completely. So does the Diamond Sutra if you approach it again and again with a gentle mind.

    In my experience...

    Chet

  22. #22

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    They are "neither" random nor illogical.
    They are just letters.
    They are just words.
    They are the most meaningful things you will read.

    But.....when you want to know where the men's restroom is ........ :evil:



    :mrgreen:

  23. #23

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Many paths up the mountain. Anyway, what mountain?
    Curly then poke his teacher's eye "There! Nyuck, Nyuck, Nyuck, Woo, Woo, woo!"
    :mrgreen:

  24. #24

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    Vipassana is a pretty hard core, down and dirty practice. I think it's definitely closer to Zen in intent and effectiveness than are most other Mahayana schools' forms of meditation.

  25. #25

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    and we do not hold on to, or focus our efforts into, or seek to pierce the Koan during Zazen (apart from the Genjo Koan, which might be thought of as the Koan right before our eyes, and which is our eyes too). In Soto, Koans are approached with a pliant Zazen mind, but off the cushion proper.
    Sometimes Koans pop up. You might have moment where it's like "Oh, right." That doesn't necessarily happen during Zazen. Also, the same Koan might pop up numerous times, each time different.

    The great thing about Koans is there's thousands of them. So, once you have an oh yeah moment doesn't really mean you understand much and usually we end up back where we started.

    Clinging to understanding needs to be dropped as well. Example: I'll have some moments like the time I was walking to the store and something popped up, but really that's only one moment, and things go on. One moment you might understand all the Koans, but you still have to get on with it instead of just thinking about them. It's more like "living the Koan" instead of just understanding it.

    Gassho

  26. #26

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    Also, a Koan could be anything to do with practice and life. The Shobogenzo is one big Koan.

    W

  27. #27

    Re: Zen is Tough - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    Quote Originally Posted by Mountaintop Rebel
    Vipassana is a pretty hard core, down and dirty practice. I think it's definitely closer to Zen in intent and effectiveness than are most other Mahayana schools' forms of meditation.
    Nitpicking here, but I believe that many associate it more with Theravada. Both traditions embrace it in somewhat differing forms.

    I'm not a huge fan of nitpicking. Maybe I should edit this and replace it with a Henny Youngman joke.

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