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Thread: Do Buddhists proselytize?

  1. #1

    Do Buddhists proselytize?

    In one of his writings, the Dalai Lama suggests everyone should pursue the religion of their homeland to find happiness and fulfillment, and hope to be reincarnated a Buddhist in the next life. How do other Buddhists of the Soto Zen tradition address disagreement with other faiths, religions and practices? Are we to be conspicuous with our philosophy or is it something that is kept personal and private? This question is not with regard to approval or acceptance by society or others, but more a curiosity regarding Buddhist proselytizing.

  2. #2

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by mr.Lou
    In one of his writings, the Dalai Lama suggests everyone should pursue the religion of their homeland to find happiness and fulfillment, and hope to be reincarnated a Buddhist in the next life. How do other Buddhists of the Soto Zen tradition address disagreement with other faiths, religions and practices? Are we to be conspicuous with our philosophy or is it something that is kept personal and private? This question is not with regard to approval or acceptance by society or others, but more a curiosity regarding Buddhist proselytizing.
    Hi Lou,

    Of course, these things vary from group to group, but I usually say something like this about our Sangha ...

    Many roads up the mountain-non-mountain, many beliefs and religions suited to different people. May each find their own road. We do not argue or disagree with people of other religions and philosophical systems (even with people of other flavors of Buddhisms ... such as the Dalai Lama!) ... even as we may disagree. Agreeing to disagree.

    Zen Practice can even be harmoniously united with other beliefs and aspects of life ... Christianity, Judaism, Atheism, Agnosticism, about anything at all-ism ... just like it lets us be liberal or conservative, male or female, single or married, tall or short, no matter ... if handled with a Wise mind (perhaps the only beliefs it does not fit with would be something like Nazism or any other violent, angry belief system).

    I have sometimes expressed opinions that have brought some angry reactions by certain other Buddhists (well, as "angry" as Buddhists get anyway!). I believe that, through the centuries, there has been much "hocus pocus", superstition and exaggeration often tangled up with this wondrous Path. However, I ALWAYS say too that one man's "silly story and abracadabra" is another person's "Sacred Story and Holy Mantra" ... and many good paths up the non-mountain-mountain ... may each find her own (and avoid the ones which lead off the cliff!) :shock:

    It may be shocking for a Buddhist priest to say so, as shocking as hearing a Catholic priest say he "doesn't believe in Jesus". But it's true nonetheless. I am a Buddhist priest who thinks "Buddha" is largely bunk and baloney.

    At least, I think there's a lot of "bull" to how Buddha is typically portrayed. I think many of the utterly fantastic Mahayana Sutra stories of Buddhas are ridiculous ... hyper-exaggerated ... just unbelievable! (meaning that they cannot be literally believed any more than children's fairy tales). The imagery is incredibly beautiful ... but the tale just incredible nonsense, purely the product of human imagination. I think the image of a "Perfect Buddha" ... either in this world or some Buddha Land ... as a flawless being beyond all human weakness, conflict and ignorance ... is a fable, a religious myth. I think most of the old miracle filled stories are well meaning fictions, sometimes holy lies, and the golden statues and paintings of Buddhas are but depictions of exaggerated dreams.
    (though don't miss the "on the other hand" conclusion of the essay ... people sometimes miss that part ... ) ...


    I know Buddha for a fact! ...

    Buddha is Real

    viewtopic.php?f=17&t=3673

    I am working on a book on such theme now.

    Anyway, I don't believe in proselytizing Buddhism either, or even Soto Zen Buddhism or our little Sangha. I do believe in making the Teachings known, and our resources known, to anyone with whom it may resonate ... letting them know it is here and that they may want to give it a try. However, we do not chase people in ... and we do not chase after people if they go.

    That is my personal view.

    Gassho, Jundo

  3. #3

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Thank you Jundo for those clarifying words and I appreciate the link to the previous thread as well. As I pursue my studies of Buddhism, I find a lot of my Christian tendencies tend to rise up as frameworks to my understanding of religion. The "Great Commision" is something that I came to believe but never fully embodied because of my own doubts. However, as I grow in my studies of this tradition I more redilly seem to embody that natural eagerness to run out and share what I've learned so others can be happy like me. In many ways, I feel like a character in the allegory of the cave that learns they were just shadows. After reading your reply, I am reminded of Brad Warner's statement that "nothing is sacred" and therefore our philosophy is not "the good news" needing to be eagerly shared but instead it is...actually I have no idea what it is, yet.

    Being new to Buddhism and Treeleaf, I apologize if my questions are too rudimentary or previously covered. I do try to review the existing forums for answers first, but I did not happen upon the one you referenced above.

  4. #4

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by mr.Lou
    Being new to Buddhism and Treeleaf, I apologize if my questions are too rudimentary or previously covered.
    Hey Lou,

    Not at all. As a matter of fact, when people ask basic questions ... like how to sit, what is this or that ... it is a chance to offer a refresher to everyone on the "basics".

    Always keep Beginner's Mind.

    Gassho, J

  5. #5
    disastermouse
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    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Although it's probably possible to proselytize some versions of Buddhism, I don't see how you would proselytize Zen. There is no damnation (except ignorance) and no salvation (except understanding - sometimes slowly dawning, often coming-and-going). It offers no permanent rest that you do not initiate yourself.

    I do sometimes argue with people of other faiths, but mostly just because it's interesting to talk to someone else who cares about these things.

    Chet

  6. #6
    Senior Member Amelia's Avatar
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    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Whenever someone proselytizes to me, I don't really know how to respond to it well. I have trouble describing my practice to anyone asking about it from a biased perspective. To me, practice is something learned inside without words, though we use words to point to it. When I hear myself trying to describe my practice out loud, it doesn't sound right, and I don't want to lead anyone astray or appear to be biased myself.

    mr.Lou, when you ask how one should respond to such a situation, or if a Buddhist of our path should try and proselytize, I would say just go with your gut in the moment. That's all I can do.

  7. #7

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    When I made this post, I did purposely use the word "proselytize" because I think it is a word unfairly viewed with a negative connotation. To me, it simply refers to the sharing of ideas. No one is born knowing Buddhism or anything really. Proselytizing is really just about sharing, and I don't necessarily see that it should be avoided. I can see that Buddhists may not necessarily go on missions with the exclusive aim at converting others to Buddhism, but I disagree with Chet's statement that Zen cannot be proselytized.

    Zen promises as much "salvation" as any other religion. All religions, including Zen, offer their form of Truth. It is what "saves" any religion's followers from "destruction." What details one associates with those terms is what sets each religion apart. I think we have to be cautious when separating Zen from other religions, because I see at the base level Zen is providing for humans' internal needs just as other religions are. It is still a ritualized practice that requires adherence to a structure.

    By the way, when Jehovah's Witnesses come to my door, I simply tell them that I am a Buddhist. They ask which tradition, but the conversation then proceeds to pleasantries and that is pretty much it. It does not have to be a negative incident to interact with those of other philosophies, and I do not think it should ever be avoided or feared.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Amelia's Avatar
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    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    I also do not think it should be avoided or feared... but I avoid and fear it. ops:

  9. #9

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by Amelia
    I also do not think it should be avoided or feared... but I avoid and fear it. ops:
    Don't we all?

  10. #10

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Doesn't Buddhism and zen specifically proselytize itself in a way, though often poorly? How many people know what they know about zen through D.T. Suzuki or Eugen Herrigel, from movies and television, or from the martial arts? How many were drawn in by promises of enlightenment, mystical powers of the mind, the end of illusion, or the cessation of suffering?

  11. #11

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    I had a long journey through many different faiths, and when I identified as any of them, my take was I'll go my way and you go yours, I don't know if Buddhists proselytize or not, but I know that I don't, as a Christian the great commission bothered me because I understood that other peoples paths are there own and no matter how hard I beat people over the head with the bible, it would never change their mind, only they could change their minds. That's just like, my opinion though man

    Gassho,

    Jeff

  12. #12

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    I don’t. Think buddhism has saved me. There is a lot about life I don't like. But whether I like it or not I continue to practice. Is that religion, I think not. But thinking doesn't. Really matter when the rubber hits the road.

  13. #13

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    I don't really understand the concept of "saving." What does it mean? I understand it from the Christian point of view. It has a very concrete meaning. Unambiguous, and perhaps its too big a task to ask anyone to say something unambiguous about zen, but when "I vow to save all sentient beings," there is no one in need of saving, and no need to save them, so what gives?

  14. #14

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by doogie
    ... but when "I vow to save all sentient beings," there is no one in need of saving, and no need to save them, so what gives?
    There are no sentient belngs in need of saving ... yet sentient beings are in need of saving, and it is the task of Bodhisattvas like us to save them! (Zen is not seeing things as an "either A or B" proposition ... and so often in a Buddha's Eye, A is precisely B!). Sentient Beings are suffering, precisely because sentient beings things there is a self in need. At the Heart of saving sentient beings is teaching them that "there are no sentient belngs in need of saving", the Wisdom of this Beautiful Path. No self, and so no suffering! :shock:

    But the saving does not end there ...

    At the same time, folks need saving in other ways ... food, shelter, companionship, a shoulder to lean on too. There may be "no sentient belngs in need of saving", but some folks are hungry and lonely tonight.

    "Saving" is a very loaded word for some because of "Judeo-Christian baggage" that they carry around with them (and should put down ... cause often it is baggage of their own packing!) ... so one can substitute a word such as "help, aid, rescue" or the like if one wishes. It is our Bodhisattva Vow then to "Aid All Sentient Beings!" through both material goods like food and medicine, a friendly ear and helping hand ... and by making these Teachings available.

    However, as I said ... we do not force anyone to listen, even as we "put them out there" and make these Teachings and Practices available. It is a Buddhist view that folks will hear when they are ready, not a moment before ... either in this lifetime or some other. So, we make the Teachings available and accessible ... but we do not hound anyone to buy into them.

    I usually suggest to our Sangha members that they do not try to persuade anyone of the "Rightness of Zen Buddhism" or the like. On the other hand, if someone asks ... just speak about what this Way is in one's own life, and answer their questions as best one can. Do not force or lure anyone to a Zen sitting ... but, on the other hand, bring them if they express an interest.

    Also, do not try to convince friends or relatives about Buddhist Practice. Instead, I suggest you just be with them as a good, caring, gentle friend or relative ... son or daughter, parent ... and they will get the point. In fact, if they see a change in you from before ... if they see that you have, in fact, become a more caring, gentle, whole, content person than who they knew before ...

    ... they will get the message more than anything that can be said in words.

    Gassho, J

  15. #15

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    I do believe in making the Teachings known, and our resources known, to anyone with whom it may resonate ... letting them know it is here and that they may want to give it a try. However, we do not chase people in ... and we do not chase after people if they go.

    That is my personal view.

    Gassho, Jundo
    I thought this was so well put. I'm like mrlou and with a Christian background find that the more I learn, the more I have this feeling of spreading the 'good word' if you will. I find some conflict sometimes that as time goes on I feel more compassionate and thus feel more of a need to act and pass on help to those who are suffering. But as you say, 'with whom it may resonate'. Key words there as you don't want to be the crazy lady at the grocery store who keeps talking about the Buddha and such.
    Well, I'm not so sure I want to be that crazy lady, just yet.

  16. #16

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Quote Originally Posted by doogie
    ... but when "I vow to save all sentient beings," there is no one in need of saving, and no need to save them, so what gives?
    There are no sentient belngs in need of saving ... yet sentient beings are in need of saving, and it is the task of Bodhisattvas like us to save them! (Zen is not seeing things as an "either A or B" proposition ... and so often in a Buddha's Eye, A is precisely B!). Sentient Beings are suffering, precisely because sentient beings things there is a self in need. At the Heart of saving sentient beings is teaching them that "there are no sentient belngs in need of saving", the Wisdom of this Beautiful Path. No self, and so no suffering! :shock:

    But the saving does not end there ...

    At the same time, folks need saving in other ways ... food, shelter, companionship, a shoulder to lean on too. There may be "no sentient belngs in need of saving", but some folks are hungry and lonely tonight.

    "Saving" is a very loaded word for some because of "Judeo-Christian baggage" that they carry around with them (and should put down ... cause often it is baggage of their own packing!) ... so one can substitute a word such as "help, aid, rescue" or the like if one wishes. It is our Bodhisattva Vow then to "Aid All Sentient Beings!" through both material goods like food and medicine, a friendly ear and helping hand ... and by making these Teachings available.

    ...

    Also, do not try to convince friends or relatives about Buddhist Practice. Instead, I suggest you just be with them as a good, caring, gentle friend or relative ... son or daughter, parent ... and they will get the point. In fact, if they see a change in you from before ... if they see that you have, in fact, become a more caring, gentle, whole, content person than who they knew before ...

    ... they will get the message more than anything that can be said in words.

    Gassho, J
    Thanks, Jundo. I still struggle with the word "save" (all that Christian stuff from my youth); this clarifies the matter.

    _/_

  17. #17
    Senior Member ZenHarmony's Avatar
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    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Wow... I so love the conversations I read here, and learn so much from them

    Deep respect to all,

    Lisa

  18. #18

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Thank you, Jundo. I understand what you mean. And yes, "save" is a loaded word. It comes with a lot of baggage, and not just because of the Christian connotation. It doesn't feel like the right word to me (setting aside no right and no wrong). It feels like a word we're stuck with, doing the best we can with it. Like fishing with pliers. You can't save someone from hunger, or save them from drug addiction, or from themselves, from their clinging to a self, or from suffering. You can give them food, shelter, teachings, comfort, love, friendship, and support. But who has ever been saved, and what have they ever been saved from? Everyone dies, and no one escapes suffering (except through death.) it can be minimized, delayed, or even transformed into medicine, but not eradicated. And yes, I understand, we strive even though it's an impossible task. But strive to what? To save someone suggests the saver is in a less precarious or superior position. But isn't that an illusion'? No one's farther along the path, since the path doesn't lead anywhere, and no one but the dead is out of danger. No one knows any more than another because there is nothing to know, and anyone who thinks they do know something for sure is crazy. No, I'm not sure I can in good conscience vow to save all sentient beings, but I can vow to help all beings the best I can (at least until I can come up with a better word for it.)

  19. #19

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by doogie
    ...But who has ever been saved, and what have they ever been saved from? Everyone dies, and no one escapes suffering (except through death.) it can be minimized, delayed, or even transformed into medicine, but not eradicated....
    Oh, well, fortunately we don't believe in "death" either. Or "birth" for that matter. I mean, since there are no sentient beings, who exactly is there to be born and die?!

    Is the river born or become dead as the ripples rise and fall on its surface? We may see the ripples come and go, but miss the river's flowing flowing flowing.

    I mean, when you are asleep and have a dream at night ... where does the dream "go" when the alarm clock rings and you awaken? 8)

    Gassho, J

  20. #20
    Senior Member ZenHarmony's Avatar
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    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    I mean, when you are asleep and have a dream at night ... where does the dream "go" when the alarm clock rings and you awaken? 8)
    How do we know that the dream isn't reality and reality the dream?

    (and yes, I ask in all seriousness, not as a study in duality)

    Lisa

  21. #21

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by ZenHarmony
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    I mean, when you are asleep and have a dream at night ... where does the dream "go" when the alarm clock rings and you awaken? 8)
    How do we know that the dream isn't reality and reality the dream?

    (and yes, I ask in all seriousness, not as a study in duality)

    Lisa
    Hi Lisa,

    I sometimes say that, for Dogen, the separate things, people and events of the world are so unreal when viewed as Emptiness, that they all come back the other way ... thus rebounding each as Real as Real can be, each a precious jewel in its own way. Master Dogen spoke of Muchu Setsumu, a 'dream within a dream' ... a dream so dreamy, but not merely just dreamy ... a dream of life, but our lives nonetheless and the place for living and awakening. All is a dream perhaps ... but just our very lives here and now, a dream that is just plain wonderfully dreamy (even when sometimes oh so scary)! A kind of fiction, but a story being written now ... largely by how we write it in our Wisdom or Greed, Anger and Ignorance. Dream On, Oh Dreamer!

    It is a waking dream at night and in broad daylight, eyes closed or wide open.

    Gassho, J

  22. #22

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    How do we know that the dream isn't reality and reality the dream?

    (and yes, I ask in all seriousness, not as a study in duality)

    Lisa
    For the Mahayana Buddhists of the Tibetan tradition- or as far as the Lama that I had the occasion to converse with at a monastery in the Himalayas -states this question was really the source of their entire study. For them, enlightenment is achieved when true acceptance of realizing that they, and all humanity,are all simply a dream and the product of the Dreamer, Brahman, is the key to freeing one's self from the curse of existence (samsara) as is taught by Guru Rinpoché. Milaripa, according to their tradition, is the only person to have ever achieved enlightenment in a single lifetime and was thus liberated from existence at the conclusion of his first incarnation. It is definitely a question that appears in many Buddhist traditions.

    For me, such a question only inspires me to ponder: Aren't dreams and reality simply two sides of the same coin we call consciousness, and therefore ultimately the same thing under different names?

  23. #23

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by mr.Lou
    For me, such a question only inspires me to ponder: Aren't dreams and reality simply two sides of the same coin we call consciousness, and therefore ultimately the same thing under different names?
    Hi Lou

    I think in Buddhism it's not that we seek liberation from existence it's that we seek liberation from rebirth or rather liberation from dukkha.

    I would say that dreams and reality are indeed the sides of one coin, however this coin can't be named. All the words and ideas revolve around "it" and try to describe that which can't be named. What do you call it when you're sitting deeply in zazen when there's nothing to name and nobody to name it? Reality or dream, both and neither?

  24. #24

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    The thing is everyone wants to find a way out of sickness, old age, and death and there is no way out - you have to do it. So its a slippery slope to tell someone to study Buddhism and meditate and everything will be just fine. If asked, Maybe you could say something like 'I practice zen meditation and it helps me understand myself and deal with life' or 'Studying Buddhism and practicing sitting meditation has helped me get thru some difficult times'
    but if you don't walk the walk it won't matter what you say, even a child can see right thru you.

  25. #25

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by mr.Lou
    This question is not with regard to approval or acceptance by society or others, but more a curiosity regarding Buddhist proselytizing.
    I don't see a problem with wanting to share something precious like the Dharma. Though I wouldn't sell it door to door. :wink:

  26. #26
    disastermouse
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    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Honestly, until you become dissatisfied or unsuccessful to a certain degree with 'false' or 'impermanent' means of the attainment of happiness, or until you cannot repress the ego's horror at death, illness, and old age - Zen will have little appeal to you. I think you have to fall 'out of love' a little with pleasure and goal-striving. Otherwise Zen, even if explained passing adequate, will appear as strange.

    Repeatedly people at work ask me what the purpose of meditation is. When I tell them, 'When meditating correctly, there is no purpose.' they give me a very odd look and ask why, then, I do it. I usually answer that it's the only time in life where there is absolutely no purpose. I then note that there are many positive effects of zazen, but those effects are not the purpose of zazen. Zazen is the purpose of zazen - it is a surrender of sorts - except that when done correctly, there is nothing to surrender and nothing to which to surrender.

    How does one proselytize that to a consumerist population for whom the founding conceptions of spirituality lie in a 'heaven/damnation' Judeo-Christian viewpoint? It would be very difficult.

    Chet

  27. #27

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Repeatedly people at work ask me what the purpose of meditation is. When I tell them, 'When meditating correctly, there is no purpose.' they give me a very odd look and ask why, then, I do it. I usually answer that it's the only time in life where there is absolutely no purpose. I then note that there are many positive effects of zazen, but those effects are not the purpose of zazen. Zazen is the purpose of zazen - it is a surrender of sorts - except that when done correctly, there is nothing to surrender and nothing to which to surrender.

    How does one proselytize that to a consumerist population for whom the founding conceptions of spirituality lie in a 'heaven/damnation' Judeo-Christian viewpoint? It would be very difficult.

    Chet
    What is the difference that you see between answering the questions of your co-workers and proselytizing? Aren't both simply the sharing of your knowledge of your religious practice with others?

  28. #28
    Senior Member Ekai's Avatar
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    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Reading the comments on talking to coworkers about Buddhism reminds me of something that happened to me at work a few years ago. A previous employee, who was a devout Christian, was having a conversation with another employee about Christianity and Buddhism. Well, we have an open workspace so we hear everyone. During this discussion, my Christian friend blurts out real loud, "I don't like Buddhists because the Bible says they are atheists!" :shock: I thought this was totally funny because he had no idea I was a Buddhist and we were already friends. Over time, he learned about my Buddhist path and lightened up his views. Otherwise how could we be friends if he clung to his perceptions that Buddhists are bad?

    Gassho,
    Ekai

  29. #29
    disastermouse
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    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by mr.Lou
    What is the difference that you see between answering the questions of your co-workers and proselytizing? Aren't both simply the sharing of your knowledge of your religious practice with others?
    The difference is that I can offer very little reason to become Buddhist to people who think there is something to achieve and someone to achieve it. Zen is inherently self-selective.

    Chet

  30. #30

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Quote Originally Posted by mr.Lou
    What is the difference that you see between answering the questions of your co-workers and proselytizing? Aren't both simply the sharing of your knowledge of your religious practice with others?
    The difference is that I can offer very little reason to become Buddhist to people who think there is something to achieve and someone to achieve it. Zen is inherently self-selective.

    Chet
    There is where I usually step in to remind folks that saying "there is nothing to achieve" does not mean "there is nothing to achieve."

    Just because there is "not a thing about you in need of change, and anyway, no 'you' to change" does not mean that there are not many things about you you had best change.

    "No purpose" is a very great purpose, and so we practice diligently.

    Now, back to your discussion.

    Gassho, J

  31. #31

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Working for two Christian seminaries I get drawn into religious discussions and while I don't end up proselytizing Buddhism (Well there was the one time but it was asked to) I do end up proselytizing Shikantaza.

    There are a lot of people here who "sit in meditation and wait for the lord to lead them" and they all complain about the same stuff we do (mostly how do you shut your mind up).

  32. #32
    disastermouse
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    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Quote Originally Posted by mr.Lou
    What is the difference that you see between answering the questions of your co-workers and proselytizing? Aren't both simply the sharing of your knowledge of your religious practice with others?
    The difference is that I can offer very little reason to become Buddhist to people who think there is something to achieve and someone to achieve it. Zen is inherently self-selective.

    Chet
    There is where I usually step in to remind folks that saying "there is nothing to achieve" does not mean "there is nothing to achieve."

    Just because there is "not a thing about you in need of change, and anyway, no 'you' to change" does not mean that there are not many things about you you had best change.

    "No purpose" is a very great purpose, and so we practice diligently.

    Now, back to your discussion.

    Gassho, J
    But it's the other part that is both harder to understand and rather difficult to 'sell'.

    Chet

  33. #33

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Repeatedly people at work ask me what the purpose of meditation is. When I tell them, 'When meditating correctly, there is no purpose.' they give me a very odd look and ask why, then, I do it. I usually answer that it's the only time in life where there is absolutely no purpose. I then note that there are many positive effects of zazen, but those effects are not the purpose of zazen. Zazen is the purpose of zazen - it is a surrender of sorts - except that when done correctly, there is nothing to surrender and nothing to which to surrender.
    This can't be the whole answer. Surely it's only part of the answer. Perhaps there is no purpose in zazen as zazen itself is purposeless or goalless, but we are human beings with drives and desires, and some purpose drives everyone to the cushion. Everyone. Maybe it's peace of mind, help dealing with tragedy (past, present, or future), stress reduction, to find something missing from our lives, or even to get closer to God, but something brings people to zen and drives them to sit.

    Shikantaza, mindfulness meditation, and other forms, are often used as pills, prescriptions for certain 'ailments of the mind, body, and spirit', but really they're placebos. Empty. People take them for a purpose even though they have no purpose.

    Dropping the self in mindfulness or in shikantaza for a few minutes each day can be therapeutic. It can make standing in the line at the DMV easier, or help one deal with obnoxious co-workers. I wonder, does it matter if someone sits for those purposes if those purposes make them sit (as long as they can drop those purposes once their ass hits the cushion)?

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    I can offer very little reason to become Buddhist to people who think there is something to achieve and someone to achieve it. Zen is inherently self-selective.
    Yet there is also something to achieve and someone to achieve it. I don't think we should spend all our time sitting on only one side of the coin.

  34. #34

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse


    But it's the other part that is both harder to understand and rather difficult to 'sell'.

    Chet
    Actually, I think both ways are difficult to explain. And in fact, from what I understand of many of friends who are non-Buddhists, people kind of think Buddhism is just a set of beliefs one adopts. A kind of 'inner-peace-man' attitude one simply has. As if one suddenly says, "I'm a buddhist" and they're done. The "nothing to achieve thing," when people ask me, I don't even bring it up. It's so far beyond how some usually think about living. Also, I don't bring it up for this reason: while we understand (to some degree and, at least for me, poorly) that there is nothing to achieve, this is also hard work. And I don't mean that being a Buddhist or Zen Buddhist or whatever is unpleasant; to me, it's the most wonderful thing: I mean that it takes courage and effort even though these things eventually get dropped; it takes a serious (and foolish) person who really cares to look at oneself; it takes sitting every day, twice a day, even more; eating silently some days; fully listening to another with no thought of oneself; immersing oneself in what's happening; letting go. It's often easy for outsiders to look at this practice as some wishy washy hippy crap, which it just isn't: it takes dedication and serious love, and awareness, all the time, all the time, now, now, now. Everything is practice, everything is teaching; this is what is difficult for some people to understand, I think, because it simply means giving up a lot of b.s. (and I say that with plenty of b.s. to give up myself).

    In any case, when people ask me, I tell them that this path takes hard work. I think it important to convey this. Then I say: but beautiful hard work, which, over time, becomes easeful work, then not-work, then just flowing (some days). The hard work is to get a glimpse of the flowing, I think; to learn to flow into it.

    Gassho,
    Alan

  35. #35
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by doogie
    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Repeatedly people at work ask me what the purpose of meditation is. When I tell them, 'When meditating correctly, there is no purpose.' they give me a very odd look and ask why, then, I do it. I usually answer that it's the only time in life where there is absolutely no purpose. I then note that there are many positive effects of zazen, but those effects are not the purpose of zazen. Zazen is the purpose of zazen - it is a surrender of sorts - except that when done correctly, there is nothing to surrender and nothing to which to surrender.
    This can't be the whole answer. Surely it's only part of the answer. Perhaps there is no purpose in zazen as zazen itself is purposeless or goalless, but we are human beings with drives and desires, and some purpose drives everyone to the cushion. Everyone. Maybe it's peace of mind, help dealing with tragedy (past, present, or future), stress reduction, to find something missing from our lives, or even to get closer to God, but something brings people to zen and drives them to sit.

    Shikantaza, mindfulness meditation, and other forms, are often used as pills, prescriptions for certain 'ailments of the mind, body, and spirit', but really they're placebos. Empty. People take them for a purpose even though they have no purpose.

    Dropping the self in mindfulness or in shikantaza for a few minutes each day can be therapeutic. It can make standing in the line at the DMV easier, or help one deal with obnoxious co-workers. I wonder, does it matter if someone sits for those purposes if those purposes make them sit (as long as they can drop those purposes once their ass hits the cushion)?
    You sound like my coworkers. Why is it so difficult to believe? Comparing shikantaza to a placebo is precisely wrong, IMHO - as you do not do shikantaza for a particular purpose. In fact, that there is no reason is the reason.

    Before I sit zazen, I have a goal - which is to sit on the cushion. Only that! I have no ideas of what should take place once I sit and place my hands in the mudra. Once I am sitting on the cushion, there is no goal. People love to argue with me about this, but then again - there are so many people I meet who seem disappointed with their practice - they feel as though they're missing something. I've heard this many times by many people.

    If I'm wrong, I would rather be wrong and not disappointed with my practice than correct and striving for something for which you cannot strive.

    And yet, still I do it, and sometimes it seems very difficult. It's very odd. Suzuki used to say it was the sort of effort that leaves no trace - an effortless effort or an effort that burns itself up. My main point is to stress that I don't sit zazen to clear my mind, or to de-stress, or to achieve health, or any of those things - although sitting zazen does often 'clear the mind', make me less stressful, and likely improves health.

    Chet

  36. #36

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    It seems like there are two very different-but related- questions that are being conflated in this discussion:

    - Why do we practice?

    - What is the goal/purpose of zazen?

  37. #37

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse

    You sound like my coworkers. Why is it so difficult to believe? Comparing shikantaza to a placebo is precisely wrong, IMHO - as you do not do shikantaza for a particular purpose. In fact, that there is no reason is the reason.
    And this sounds like dualistic thinking, IMHO. But setting that aside, no one has ever done anything for no reason. It's impossible. Our brains aren't wired that way. Even choosing to do something completely by random must have some complicated reasoning and motivation behind it, even though that reasoning and those motivations might be subconscious.

    Just as there is no such thing as a selfless act--one always derives something from every act of kindness (even if one suffers in the act), there is no such thing as an unmotivated action. There must, by the fact that we're human beings and not androids be some desire behind our practices (at least there must've been something in the beginning).

    (I suppose it could be argued that sitting shikantaza is the one selfless act as one is dropping self in the (non)act, but that's a rather complex metaphysical debate beyond my cognitive abilities.)

  38. #38

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kaishin
    It seems like there are two very different-but related- questions that are being conflated in this discussion:

    - Why do we practice?

    - What is the goal/purpose of zazen?
    I think so. It seems to me, and I may be wrong, but even though one sits with no goal (that is, one drops all goals, desires, and seeking--even the seeker--on the cushion,) that doesn't mean one doesn't have goals or desires. We can't polish a tile into a mirror, but that doesn't mean don't stop trying to polish the tile into a mirror, even though the tile is already a perfect mirror. Did I get that right? Hmm, too much thinking for one day. Going to walk the dog.

  39. #39

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kaishin
    It seems like there are two very different-but related- questions that are being conflated in this discussion:

    - Why do we practice?

    - What is the goal/purpose of zazen?
    Zazen is practice. Why do we zazen? What is the goal/purpose of practice?

    I don't think these questions are being conflated; they're both just being answered as best we can. I think you've just asked them and separated them clearly for us, so thanks. We're all trying to describe (or some of us are) how we talk about this stuff to other people. And those two questions come up. Why do you do this? And what is the point of it? Some are answering one, some are answering the other, some aren't answering, some are explaining what the questions are. If you separated these two questions for a non-buddhist and said, the answer to the first is "I practice to be a better person" (or something), and the answer to the second is "No goal," then the person you were trying to explain this to would probably go: "uh, what? You just said there was a goal. To be better."

    Anyway, those questions aren't two.

  40. #40

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by alan.r
    Quote Originally Posted by Kaishin
    It seems like there are two very different-but related- questions that are being conflated in this discussion:

    - Why do we practice?

    - What is the goal/purpose of zazen?
    Zazen is practice. Why do we zazen? What is the goal/purpose of practice?

    I don't think these questions are being conflated; they're both just being answered as best we can. I think you've just asked them and separated them clearly for us, so thanks. We're all trying to describe (or some of us are) how we talk about this stuff to other people. And those two questions come up. Why do you do this? And what is the point of it? Some are answering one, some are answering the other, some aren't answering, some are explaining what the questions are. If you separated these two questions for a non-buddhist and said, the answer to the first is "I practice to be a better person" (or something), and the answer to the second is "No goal," then the person you were trying to explain this to would probably go: "uh, what? You just said there was a goal. To be better."

    Anyway, those questions aren't two.
    Excellent summary has been penned by Alan, Doogie and Kaishin in these above posts, and it definitely clarifies what my original question was. Thank you for taking the time to do so.

    As a new comer to the Soto Zen tradition, I believe I still have a bit of a unique perspective because much of it still seems very foreign to me. I get excited about new discoveries and I want to share them with people I know by talking about it, but then I realize that I cannot clearly explain it and so then I withdraw from the conversation. I think this happens a lot and it contributes to the overall mystique of Zen.

    However, that mystique also, IMHO, does a disservice to the practitioners of this tradition. When you ask a "zealot" what they believe they can very succinctly explain it to you. Agree or disagree, you have no problem understanding exactly who they are, what they believe and where they stand. When you ask a person of casual surface religious affiliation, they tend to give a party-line definition with all kinds of caveats. Through my experience, what the world seems to recognize most about Zen is the Koans and the ascetic practices of some traditions. I understand that most of us here do not feel the need to run out and convert everyone we meet to Buddhism, but I worry that by not being more prolific and ready with explanations for those not of the Soto tradition that we inadvertently weaken our religion and its propensity to continue in its credible form.

    Since we do not claim to have some sort of divinity supporting the continued existence of our religion, then doesn't it default to us to be good stewards of the tradition as well as good practitioners?

  41. #41
    Senior Member pinoybuddhist's Avatar
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    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    My take on it is this: how badly does a person want to find out about Buddhism? You know how I became a Buddhist in the Philippines, a country where approximately 90% of the population are Christian, a smaller percentage are Muslim, and an even smaller percentage (I think) are Buddhists, pagans, agnostics and atheists combined? Through the Internet. Nobody proselytized Buddhism to me - I went out looking for it. Dissatisfied with my Catholic upbringing, I looked into other traditions. Nobody came to me and proselytized Wicca, Taoism, Zen, etc. - I went out of my way to look into them. My point is I was a seeker. And seekers do not wait for other people to proselytize to them about their religion - they go out and seek. And the reason they do this - well, maybe I should say the reason I did it was dissatisfaction. For me, if a person is satisfied with whatever religion he has - truly satisfied - then great. More power to him. If that person is not, then he will go out of his way and look around. Based on my own experience, that's the person who will be really open to learning about Buddhism.

    This has influenced my attitude on proselytizing: if people want to learn, they will come and they will find us. Maybe they will not find Treeleaf. Maybe they will find some other sangha. Maybe it won't even be a Soto sangha. Maybe it will be Rinzai, maybe it will not even be Zen. Maybe it will be Pureland or Soka Gakkai or whatever. I don't care. I'm not worried about the tradition being weakened. The knowledge is out there and it is available to anyone who really wants to learn. Heck, that this sangha is existing is enough assurance for me that the tradition isn't weakening. If they come here, they are welcome. If somebody asks me about Zen, about Buddhism, I'll answer as best as I can. Meanwhile, I practice. That's about all the proselytizing I do.

  42. #42

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Thanks pinoy. Very clear and agree with you.

  43. #43
    Senior Member pinoybuddhist's Avatar
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    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by pinoybuddhist
    For me, if a person is satisfied with whatever religion he has - truly satisfied - then great. More power to him. If that person is not, then he will go out of his way and look around. Based on my own experience, that's the person who will be really open to learning about Buddhism.
    Looking back on what I've just posted, this struck me just now as very much rigid, either-or thinking. ops: But the thing is, I don't see the value of sharing beyond a certain point. As I have said, the teachings are out there for anyone with a computer and Internet connection to access. So if somebody asks me about Zen and Buddhism, I'll answer and if he wants to know more, I'll direct that person to the Internet. Probably to Treeleaf if he's really interested. I can also invite that person to sit with me. If he's really interested and we both can find the time. That is the "certain point" beyond which I do not go. Going beyond that feels like I'm selling Zen.

  44. #44
    disastermouse
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    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    I think that maybe, as Westerners, we may be too attached to the law of the excluded middle. Logic concludes that something either is or is not but cannot be both.

    (This thinking is influenced by recent reading.)

    But does reality (as lived, not as expressed) truly exist in this way?

    A skilled zen teacher, upon seeing a student striving for that which can't be attained could emphasize the goalless-ness of Zen. The same teacher may see a student who is too complacent, who is missing something, and emphasize the effort side of the practice. Neither need be wrong, although BOTH could.

    IMHO

    Chet

  45. #45

    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by pinoybuddhist
    Quote Originally Posted by pinoybuddhist
    For me, if a person is satisfied with whatever religion he has - truly satisfied - then great. More power to him. If that person is not, then he will go out of his way and look around. Based on my own experience, that's the person who will be really open to learning about Buddhism.
    Looking back on what I've just posted, this struck me just now as very much rigid, either-or thinking. ops: But the thing is, I don't see the value of sharing beyond a certain point. As I have said, the teachings are out there for anyone with a computer and Internet connection to access. So if somebody asks me about Zen and Buddhism, I'll answer and if he wants to know more, I'll direct that person to the Internet. Probably to Treeleaf if he's really interested. I can also invite that person to sit with me. If he's really interested and we both can find the time. That is the "certain point" beyond which I do not go. Going beyond that feels like I'm selling Zen.
    It is interesting how this reflects a paradox inherent in much of what I have seen of Zen.

    In one breath to say that I have compassion for all beings and then to follow it with but I am only willing to share to a certain point seems to be contradictory. What is compassion if it is not the willingness to share everything with everyone.

    The internet is convoluted and contrasting. Answers conflict in wildly rampant ways throughout the entire web and even within individual websites. Telling someone that if they want to know more then they should go to the web is like saying if you're hungry just go to the ocean. Sure, the answers are there just as the ocean holds food, but if you do not already possess the knowledge to understand and discern what you find then the search will be lost.

    Zen, in many ways, already has a reputation for being unapproachable and intimidating. Then to couple that with the lack of a willingness to be encouraging to the curious and it begins to make Zen Buddhists look selfish as the product of their own contrived elitism. And ultimately, isn't elitism the reason so many quickly dismiss the doctrines of Christians and Muslims; because they have followers that are stoic, elitist and unwilling to show compassion toward those that do not share their beliefs?

  46. #46
    disastermouse
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    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by mr.Lou
    Quote Originally Posted by pinoybuddhist
    Quote Originally Posted by pinoybuddhist
    For me, if a person is satisfied with whatever religion he has - truly satisfied - then great. More power to him. If that person is not, then he will go out of his way and look around. Based on my own experience, that's the person who will be really open to learning about Buddhism.
    Looking back on what I've just posted, this struck me just now as very much rigid, either-or thinking. ops: But the thing is, I don't see the value of sharing beyond a certain point. As I have said, the teachings are out there for anyone with a computer and Internet connection to access. So if somebody asks me about Zen and Buddhism, I'll answer and if he wants to know more, I'll direct that person to the Internet. Probably to Treeleaf if he's really interested. I can also invite that person to sit with me. If he's really interested and we both can find the time. That is the "certain point" beyond which I do not go. Going beyond that feels like I'm selling Zen.
    It is interesting how this reflects a paradox inherent in much of what I have seen of Zen.

    In one breath to say that I have compassion for all beings and then to follow it with but I am only willing to share to a certain point seems to be contradictory. What is compassion if it is not the willingness to share everything with everyone. ?
    There are multiple points upon which we should expand regarding Zen and why its practitioners may be reluctant to over-share. I don't think it's a matter of miserliness or a lack of concern about countless beings. Haven't we all been in a position where someone has 'over-shared' their opinion - especially their religious views - to the point of making us very, very uncomfortable and possibly even less likely to consider those opinions?

    Let me advance a typical example of how a conversation between myself and a typical western, un-initiated peer frequently goes (as I am very forthcoming about being Buddhist - most everyone at work knows I'm a Buddhist).

    (IP = Interested Party. M = Me)

    (IP): "So, you're Buddhist? So Buddha is your God?"
    (M): "No. Personally, I don't believe in God. Zen Buddhism itself, especially as practiced in the West, is generally unconcerned by questions of God's existence."
    (IP): "So then how do you think all of this was created?"
    (M): "I have no idea."
    (IP): "Doesn't that bother you?"
    (M): "Not as much as I once thought it would."
    (IP): "So then what does a Buddhist believe?
    (M): "Hmm..where to start? I would say that Buddhism the way that I practice it is less about beliefs than it is about putting down beliefs, at least temporarily. However, there are the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path (I then expound the Truths and as much of the 8FP as I can remember.)
    (IP): "Do you pray?"
    (M): "I sit zazen. It's meditation."
    (IP): "So you try to clear your mind?"
    (M): "No, not really. Trying to clear your mind will either cause your mind to go running around like crazy trying to clear itself or at best will only result in an exercise of concentration. It's looser than that....but not as loose as daydreaming. I sit with everything as it is and when I notice myself getting hooked into a line of thought or planning, I simply let go and find myself right where I am. This actually happens a lot. It's more about noticing it without getting upset by it. It's just what's happening."
    (IP): "But you get better at it, right?"
    (M): "You can't really think of it as trying to get 'better' - the mind is very good at finding very compelling reasons for you to not be with things as they are. Many times, you are both right where you are and also there is a thought conversation going on but it doesn't dominate the space of your mind."
    (IP): "I don't understand that at all."
    (M): "I barely understand it myself and I feel like I'm not doing a very good job of explaining it."
    (IP): "If you don't get peace of mind or salvation from it, why do you do it?"
    (M): "Because it's the only thing that makes sense."
    (IP): "You're a very strange person."
    (M): "I know."


    The above conversation is both about as honest and skillful as I can be (fully admitting that I may very well misunderstand our practice and therefore do not explain it well), but it doesn't really make Buddhism seem appealing until you get to the point where 'It's the only thing that makes sense' - not to your logical 'a is not b' mind, but to your whole being as a person. No one can get you there, and honestly, once you do get there, you're well and truly fucked as far as anything else goes.

    IMHO.

    Chet

  47. #47
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    I'm finding it increasingly difficult to accept this whole "no purpose" thing. I've spent some time in the past couple of months reading suttas from the Pali canon. It's clear that the Buddha was, according to one metaphor, a "doctor" offering a "cure" for suffering. I think everyone here came to Zen (or whichever form to Buddhism they first discovered) because they understood the first noble truth, the one about suffering (or dukkha). So saying there's no purpose seems a bit disingenuous.

    As one goes on, one can say that sitting has no purpose, but deep down I think we all know that is not really true.

  48. #48
    disastermouse
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    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Quote Originally Posted by kirkmc
    I'm finding it increasingly difficult to accept this whole "no purpose" thing. I've spent some time in the past couple of months reading suttas from the Pali canon. It's clear that the Buddha was, according to one metaphor, a "doctor" offering a "cure" for suffering. I think everyone here came to Zen (or whichever form to Buddhism they first discovered) because they understood the first noble truth, the one about suffering (or dukkha). So saying there's no purpose seems a bit disingenuous.

    As one goes on, one can say that sitting has no purpose, but deep down I think we all know that is not really true.
    I disagree, but I'll bite.

    What are the purposes of sitting?

    Chet

  49. #49
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Um, it's the first step toward the elimination of suffering?

    See the four noble truths, and the noble eightfold path. (Admittedly not the centerpiece of Zen, but still the roots of Buddhism.)

  50. #50
    Treeleaf Unsui Myozan Kodo's Avatar
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    Re: Do Buddhists proselytize?

    Hi Kirkmc,

    Here’s my take on it, but it’s just the take of another practitioner on the journey, a trainee unsui, no more.

    The ‘no purpose’ of zazen happily exists side by side with the fact that it has a purpose. It exists simultaneously. In other words, it is beyond dualism. This is unsatisfying to our normal, rational approach, which we move beyond in zazen as we encounter reality, which itself is non-duel.

    This often appears as the ‘trick’ or ‘joke’ of zen: you achieve something by giving up the desire to achieve it (the end of suffering). And zen tradition revels in this apparent contradiction, often with great humour.

    But in reality, it has nothing to do with reasoning or intellectual understanding. It is directly apprehended in the present moment of dropping off body and mind. And how in that state can we hope to achieve something in some posited better future? Certainly the desire to achieve the end of suffering in the future cannot mean the state is dwelt h in or inhabited. In other words, we have to let this final desire go.

    Well, that’s my take on this matter at this moment. Who can explain the mystery? I can’t.

    Gassho,
    Myozan

    PS: We appear to have the two great plates of the Mahayana and the Theravada rubbing up against each other here.

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