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Thread: Reading Too Much, Reading Too Little

  1. #1

    Reading Too Much, Reading Too Little

    ... I waver between reading too much and reading too little...
    -Chet
    As usual, one of Chet's posts hit an issue I have been debating with myself. Can you be too intellectual in this pursuit? More than just (possibly) adding no value, can it actually detract from your practice? When reading Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, I got the distinct impression that Suzuki was not very impressed with Bhuddist philosophy, and was more concerened that his students sit zazen than understand the Shobogenzo (my words, not his).

    My tendency (in nearly everything I do) is to be very analytical, read everything I can, try to get a complete understanding of the subject. I fear this may be counterproductive in Zen, and actually get in the way of "just sitting/living."

    As usual, I appreciate any comments anyone would care to make.

    Thanks,

    Craig

    PS I am going to sesshin for a week starting Sunday, so if I don't respond it is because I am out of contact.

  2. #2

    Re: Reading Too Much, Reading Too Little

    Quote Originally Posted by CraigfromAz
    ... I waver between reading too much and reading too little...
    -Chet
    As usual, one of Chet's posts hit an issue I have been debating with myself. Can you be too intellectual in this pursuit? More than just (possibly) adding no value, can it actually detract from your practice? When reading Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, I got the distinct impression that Suzuki was not very impressed with Bhuddist philosophy, and was more concerened that his students sit zazen than understand the Shobogenzo (my words, not his).

    My tendency (in nearly everything I do) is to be very analytical, read everything I can, try to get a complete understanding of the subject. I fear this may be counterproductive in Zen, and actually get in the way of "just sitting/living."

    As usual, I appreciate any comments anyone would care to make.

    Thanks,

    Craig

    PS I am going to sesshin for a week starting Sunday, so if I don't respond it is because I am out of contact.
    Yes, one can be too intellectual. One can also be too uninformed. There is a Middle Way!

    This also happens to be the theme of this week's Book Club reading (reading about reading too much ... ironic, is it not?) ... which is about Ananda, who had mastered all the Buddha's words, yet was still not ripe. It is also the theme of the thread on translator Red Pine.

    Bottom line: It is good to know something about swimming, or one may drown or grow exhausted too easily or go around in circles. Yet, one can read about swimming, learn from the swimming coach and one's teammates and the sports psychologist, watch videos and computer simulations of great swimmers of the past ... but then must jump in the water, find one's own float, do the stroke oneself and get wet. The real swimming is in the swimming.

    Sesshin is a great swimming pool. Diligence, attaining nothing to attain. (PM me with details of the Sesshin)

    Gassho, J

  3. #3

    Re: Reading Too Much, Reading Too Little

    Quote Originally Posted by CraigfromAz
    ... I waver between reading too much and reading too little...
    -Chet
    As usual, one of Chet's posts hit an issue I have been debating with myself. Can you be too intellectual in this pursuit? More than just (possibly) adding no value, can it actually detract from your practice? When reading Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, I got the distinct impression that Suzuki was not very impressed with Bhuddist philosophy, and was more concerened that his students sit zazen than understand the Shobogenzo (my words, not his).

    My tendency (in nearly everything I do) is to be very analytical, read everything I can, try to get a complete understanding of the subject. I fear this may be counterproductive in Zen, and actually get in the way of "just sitting/living."

    As usual, I appreciate any comments anyone would care to make.

    Thanks,

    Craig

    PS I am going to sesshin for a week starting Sunday, so if I don't respond it is because I am out of contact.
    Hello Craig,

    Doesn't "living" include reading? There is an emphasis in zen not to rely on words and scriptures, but many people have taken this to mean that you don't need any words or scriptures, only the practical approach of zazen. In my opinion, one must cherish the finger pointing to the moon - not to mistake it for the moon, but as a tool to actually see the moon. Without the pointing finger, it is much harder to find it. I think Ko Un, the South Korean poet/writer, also stated this in the novel Little Pilgrim (which is a beautiful rendition of the last chapter of the Avata?saka s?tra by the way).

    Like you, I tend to be analytical, tend to read everything on a given subject. For us, those texts, words, s?tras and suttas are the finger pointing to the moon. My advice is to cherish that part of you. I think it is an important part of your Way.

    However, to exclusively rely on words and scriptures and to forget the practical side is equally faulty. If you only read and not do, you're missing an important part of the Way. Maybe that is why we shouldn't get caught up in too much intellectualization.

  4. #4

    Re: Reading Too Much, Reading Too Little

    It is a question of balance between practice and the intellect and I would err on the side of practice. Intellectual stimulation can become a form of craving. But at the same time without some understanding of the basic philosophy and ideas of Buddha why would you be motivated to practice? It's not a mind game, it's a game of action.
    /Rich

  5. #5

    Re: Reading Too Much, Reading Too Little

    Thanks all, for the input (and any other opinions also appreciated). I think everybody is saying that reading/studying won't get in the way of your practice, as long as you DO your practice. That is what I was most concerned with, that reading/thinking/analyzing might actually interfere with my ability to practice.

    Time to go swimming now.

    Gassho,

    Craig

  6. #6

    Re: Reading Too Much, Reading Too Little

    Let me add a few more words and ideas to read ... to this post on reading words and ideas ...

    One of the traditional critiques of "wrong reading" by the Chan (Zen) schools in China was that it can interfere if one gets lost in the words and philosophy. Simple example ... imagine that your practice of "bicycle riding" consisted in reading and writing academic papers like this on the physics and physiology of bike riding ... instead of getting on a bike on a summer's day, picking up you legs, finding the balance and just riding ... feeling the breeze! Well, the study of Buddhist texts in pre-Zen China was very much like that ...

    Influence of Pedalling Rate and Power Output on Energy Expenditure During Bicycle Ergometry
    Authors: John J. Seabury
    Human Performance Laboratory. Physical Education Department, University of California, Davis, CA

    Abstract
    Traction resistance (R t) was determined by towing two cyclists in fully dropped posture on bicycles with an aerodynamic frame with lenticular wheels (AL), an aerodynamic frame with traditional wheels (AT), or a traditional frame with lenticular wheels (TL) in calm air on a flat wooden track at constant speed (8.614.6 ms1). Under all experimental conditions, R t increased linearly with the square of air velocity (ngra 2); r 2 equal to greater than 0.89. The constant k = DeltaR t/Deltangra 2 was about 15% lower for AL and AT (0.157 and 0.155 N2m2) than for TL bicycles (0.184 N22). These data show firstly, that in terms of mechanical energy savings, the role of lenticular wheels is negligible and, secondly, that for TL bicycles, the value of k was essentially equal to that found by others for bicycles with a traditional frame and traditional wheels (TT). The energy cost of cycling per unit distance (C c, Jm1) was also measured for AT and TT bicycles from the ratio of the O2 consumption above resting to speed, in the speed range from 4.7 to 11.1 ms1. The C c also increased linearly with ngra 2, as described by: C c = 30.8 + 0.558 ngra 2 and C c = 29.6 + 0.606 ngra 2 for AT and TT bicycles. Thus from our study it would seem that AT bicycles are only about 5% more economical than TT at 12.5 ms the economy tending to increase slightly with the speed. Assuming a rolling coefficient equal to that observed by others in similar conditions, the mechanical efficiency was about 10% lower for aerodynamic than for conventional bicycles, amounting to about 22% and 25% at a speed of 12.5 ms1. From these data it was possible to calculate that the performance improvement when riding aerodynamic bicycles, all other things being equal, ought to be about 3%. This compares favourably with the increase of about 4% observed in world record speeds (over distances from 1 to 20 km) after the adoption of the new bicycles.
    What's more ... when we do read texts we read with "Zen mind", what Dogen called "thinking not thinking = non-thnking". How to describe that in words? Perhaps it is seeing the open, spacious, boundless, unobstructed, clear sky in and shining through the clouds of thought and ideas ... lighting and bringing them to life. It is seeing the empty space that is between, around ... right through and in the words themselves ...













    It is not getting "tangled in the words" ... but is "cutting away all entanglements" in the words.

    That would almost be like reading a Shakespeare Love Sonnet ... counting the syllables and not feeling the love ...

    Gassho, Jundo

  7. #7

    Re: Reading Too Much, Reading Too Little

    Personally, I tend toward the analytical as well. The way I see it, reading works from those of your chosen lineage, or those recommended by your teacher will be helpful to see things in a way that will help you to think more....."Zenny". However, and believe me this is a total 180 from where I stood when I started 6 years ago, but you NEED a relationship with a teacher to help steer you clear of wrong views, which you might thing are right views, because of a misunderstanding.

  8. #8
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Reading Too Much, Reading Too Little

    A). Don't think teachers are free of wrong views.

    B). You can't analyze your way to enlightenment.

    Chet

  9. #9

    Re: Reading Too Much, Reading Too Little

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    A). Don't think teachers are free of wrong views.

    B). You can't analyze your way to enlightenment.

    Chet
    A) Teachers are ONLY wrong views.

    B) You can't, but you can, but you can't (Zen has a logic of its own, but a kind of anti-logic logic) ...

    Still, it is mostly experiential. Like the difference between reading the cookbook, and doing the cooking, and tasting the pie.

    For example ... like listening to jazz, while knowing something about jazz and your way around an instrument ...

    MY POINT (BEFORE I LOSE MY MUSICAL TRAIN OF THOUGHT MYSELF) IS THAT Dogen was a very highly educated, intellectual, "head like a library of old Zen/Buddhist books", surprisingly conservative (as were most Zen teachers, in fact) guy who was highly trained and conversant in the "classics" and was working from them (the Shobogenzo is wall to wall references and quotes from Sutras, old Koans, obscure but important bits of Tendai Buddhist teachings, old poems, Confucian classics, and the like).

    There --IS-- a logic to Dogen most of the time, although a Zenny "Anti-logic logic" ... Dogen-Think-Not Thinking, a kind of "Alice in Wonderland" logic sometimes. It is more than simple "sound for sound's sake" expression or trying to abandon "intellectual analysis" at every turn. Dogen wanted to be understood on all levels. Thus (as in listening to Jazz), it is --both-- a matter of letting the sound and feeling wash over one, --and-- having some musical understanding of where the musician was "coming from" what he was "trying to do" and how he "got there". (In a sense, Jazz was always music by musicians playing for other musicians who were familiar with the chords).

    Here are just a few examples of "Dogen-logic", very different from ordinary logic while yet faithful to classic Mahayana perspectives ...

    A = Buddha Enlightenment B = Flowers in the sky (a classic Zen reference to delusion)

    A is A, B is B ... and A is not B. (Enlightenment is not delusion, an ancient Buddhist idea)

    But A is B. A is also C. ... (a variation on the original theme, much as stodgy ol' Nagarjuna might play)

    And, in fact, A is so much A that A is not A, and was merely B all along.

    We might say that A is just ?. B is merely


    And that just makes A into Super-Aness at each turn, B into Be Bee BB "To be or not to be" "Be my love" "B is for Buddha" ... etc. etc.

    Smell them luscious Flowers in the Sky! That's purely A through and through, though not.
    For that reason, the truth is that Dogen was not trying to defy "intellectual analysis" or "classical Buddhist/Zen philosophy", so much as find his own language and way to express it (in later years, represented by his Eihei Koroku, he actually seems to have abandoned much of the "musical experiment" that was the Shobogenzo, and gone back to being a pretty classical musician playing the "old Zen standards" in the usual way ... though never without his special touch). So, the book I recommended by Taigen Dan Leighton (coupled with a reading of the Lotus Sutra) ... and the Dr. Kim books (though themselves hard going in parts) should not be overlooked by someone really hoping to "Grok" where that Dogen cat was coming from. 8)

  10. #10
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Reading Too Much, Reading Too Little

    Personally, I feel my practice goes better when it is accompanied by a good book. Somehow the book reinforces my practice. But I usually read only one book at a time (if I double up it's because I am doing the book club thing here), and I tend to read that book fairly slowly as I let it settle into my psyche, or something like that. In this sense, reading is part of my practice.

    Now, when I want to study something, not necessarily practice it, then I read and read and read and read some more. This is part of my job of being an academic. But at some point, even my academic self has to stop all that reading and put it into practice in the form of writing about what I've been reading.

    So I would say, when reading read, and when practicing put the reading down and practice.

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