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Thread: Defence from within - a messy jigsaw puzzle

  1. #1

    Defence from within - a messy jigsaw puzzle

    I've been asking myself has my view on life changed since joining Treeleaf and the answer comes back 'No - not in any essential aspect.' But if I ask myself has my inner life changed - the answer is 'yes'.

    This inner change is quite subtle because what I've realised is that my mind hasn't been engaged with any great resistance to Zen teachings. Whatever I read - though it is in a sense 'new information ( I knew very little about Zen/Buddhist philosophy beyond popular notion) the words strike a chord. In many ways it has felt like coming home - and the practice of Zazen felt like this also - once I'd got beyond worrying about sustaining posture, etc.

    But - a couple of weeks ago - after reading the Brazier article Jundo recommended (Eight different kinds of enlightenment) - and the next couple of chapters on Critical Buddhism - my critical/analyzing mind jump-started. Something in me felt the need to 'defend' what I've taken on at the level of faith and belief (embraced by experience/intuition). Brazier's argument is that in the West (mainly through Zen) we've possibly embodied 'a fallacious distortion of Buddhism' by re-introducing the Atman type concepts of 'Inherent Buddha nature' and 'original enlightenment' - ' the Absolute' etc

    The main case for the above is taken from a series of essays in a book called 'Pruning the Bodhi Tree'. Brazier does - fleetingly - mention the counter arguments that are included in the book. I haven't bought the book - it's over 500 pages long - and I've already over-extended my reading quota.But I am now mulling over these questions that hadn't struck me before.

    I guess we can choose to make this as simple or complicated as we like - but my way of coming at learning about Zen is beginning to feel like a messy jigsaw puzzle.

    How do others approach this - centre piece first (intuition - feels right) - or the outside edges (rational, conceptual knowledge/argument)?

    Gassho

    Willow

  2. #2
    Dear Willow,

    in my sometimes-sadly-not-as-humble-as-it-should-be opinion we all have to find answers to these questions we wrestle with for ourselves.

    Maybe another part of the answer is another question. Are you looking for truth, for peace, for salvation or whatever, or are you looking for Buddhism? What are you looking for?


    and then this:

    “When the bird and the book disagree, believe the bird.”
    —John James Audubon

    YOU have to do the birdwatching in your own life, no book, no theory, no creed can ever do it for you.

    Nobody can authorise your own experience. Find out where the questions come from. Familiarise yourself with that territory - thoroughly. And no one will be able to lead you astray.

    Gassho,

    Hans Chudo Mongen
    Chudo Mongen, Ordained Novice Priest-in-Training

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by willow View Post

    I guess we can choose to make this as simple or complicated as we like - but my way of coming at learning about Zen is beginning to feel like a messy jigsaw puzzle.

    How do others approach this - centre piece first (intuition - feels right) - or the outside edges (rational, conceptual knowledge/argument)?

    Gassho

    Willow
    Hi Willow,

    Buddhism is VERY complicated! There are so many centuries of history, so many unfamiliar perspectives on life, basic Teachings and philosophy (sometimes seemingly directly contradictory of each other!) that a Zen student needs to be generally familiar with. (Even though we are said the be a "tradition beyond words and letters", and folks who can burn our books ... in fact most of the priests of old still had a basic familiarity with Buddhism before they had the foundation for saying so. They knew the books pretty well before burning! ). Of course, we do not want to become a prisoner of the words ... so everything in moderation, always "seeing through" the words and letters! Learn in small doses! We don't need all or most of the philosophizing, but we need "the Basics".

    Zen is simple as simple can be! Just sit, letting go of all the thinking, history, perspectives, philosophizing ... finding the balance, stillness and silence at the heart of all the "words and letters" and everything else.

    One without the other is not good, like fruit without a tree. Both together bear fruit.

    Sometimes we need a bit of trust in the Practice, when it seems a bit overwhelming, that it is worth it to stick it out, and will prove itself in life.

    Gassho, J

    PS - Case in point in "surplus philosophizing":

    Brazier's argument is that in the West (mainly through Zen) we've possibly embodied 'a fallacious distortion of Buddhism' by re-introducing the Atman type concepts of 'Inherent Buddha nature' and 'original enlightenment' - ' the Absolute' etc

    The main case for the above is taken from a series of essays in a book called 'Pruning the Bodhi Tree'.
    The whole academic debate on this mostly among some Buddhist college professors is really unimportant to Practice, in my view. Did Mahayana Buddhists (and some South Asian Buddhists) start reifying and talking about Buddha or Buddha Nature (and related concepts like Mind with a Big "M" ... even "Emptiness") like some "Great Unified Cosmic True Self" like Brahman or a Godhead or Cosmic Consciousness? Yes! When Buddhism came to China (not just "the West" but most of Asia for about half of Buddhism's 2500 year history ... and not just Zen but most schools of the Mahayana) "Buddha" became a "Cosmic Buddha", and things get reified. "Buddha Nature" was turned into something not unlike the "Force" in Star Wars, a "Cosmic Oneness" beyond the "small self" that you and I think we are.

    Maybe that was kind of a "no no" in early Buddhism, where Gautama Buddha was critical of such concepts (called "Atman"), and where the Nirvana of "getting beyond the small self" did not necessarily mean that there was ta "Great Cosmic Self" to merge into. Even "Emptiness" might have originally been a kind of "great flowing unity of all things (such that they're not really isolatable and there as 'things')" without necessarily being a Great Buddha in the Sky!

    However, while this sounds important ... I believe it is really not so important.

    Why?

    Sit Zazen, get beyond the "small self" ... find the liberation of the "great flowing unity of all (not really) things" we sometimes call Emptiness or Buddha Nature or like names.

    Once that is done ... it really doesn't matter if you call it "Buddha" "God" "Stanley" or nothing at all, or whether it is a "Great Cosmic Self In The Sky" or the "great flowing unity of all things-not-things ...

    ... all just names and images ...
    Last edited by Jundo; 07-17-2012 at 03:40 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  4. #4
    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    Thank you Jundo, good points !

    Mongen wrote;
    YOU have to do the birdwatching in your own life ......
    Nobody can authorise your own experience.
    gassho, Shokai, still learning the way and knowing nothing
    仁道 生開 - Jindo Shokai "Open to life in a benevolent way"
    Just another itinerant monk; go somewhere else to listen to someone who really knows.

  5. #5
    Jundo wrote

    Sit Zazen, get beyond the "small self" ... find the liberation of the "great flowing unity of all things" we sometimes call Emptiness or Buddha Nature or like names.
    Once that is done ... it really doesn't matter if you call it "Buddha" "God" "Stanley" or nothing at all, or whether it is a "Great Cosmic Self In The Sky" or the "great flowing unity of all things ...

    ... all just names and images ...
    I truly believe the above words get to the heart of things - but I also agree that before burning the books/superfluous words it helps to know what we're burning. I'm just thinking the title of that book is a bit ironic - pruning of 'so many words' seems to have produced even more 'so many words'

    Hans - thank you for your thoughtful response. I think what has thrown me somewhat is the sense that the 'questions' never really change - what I would describe as 'the big questions' - but the territory does - or maybe it's just the scenery? This path we're all walking - it can wind it's way in many directions.


    In Uchiyama's 'Opening the Hand of Thought' he writes 'I had to look at both Christianity and Buddhism and, intellectually,at Western philosophy,to realise both my own self-expression and my life vow of expressing the true meaning of living out the whole self'.


    The territory of the 'whole self' - what we believe to be authentic and true- is fashioned from so many things.

    To be honest - though I'm a bit overwhelmed and confused - I'm also really happy that whatever path I've been on has opened onto Zen.

    Gassho

    Willow
    Last edited by Jundo; 07-17-2012 at 01:15 AM.

  6. #6
    Gassho everyone.

    A jigsaw puzzle is a great analogy. When I first started, I was so confused; not that I'm not confused now at times. I have no idea what caused me to persist in the beginning, but I'm thankful I did. I think getting to the point where I realized that practice is a part of zen was my first barrier to practice. I was so into the philosophy I didn't even know about the practice. lol

    Thank you all.

    Risho

  7. #7
    Mongen, thank you for your teaching, indeed questions like birds.

    gassho


    Taigu
    Taigu, teacher at Treeleaf Sangha, was born in 1964, started Zazen early and received Shukke Tokudo in 1983 at age 18 from Rev. Mokusho Zeisler of the Deshimaru Lineage. Received Dharma Transmission from Chodo Cross in 2002. Now resides in Osaka, Japan.

  8. #8
    Thanks for this thread Willow ... I know for myself I have a tendency to analyze too much, so I try and work with my intuition (my gut). So far, it has been good to me.

    Quote Originally Posted by Hans View Post
    Nobody can authorise your own experience. Find out where the questions come from. Familiarise yourself with that territory - thoroughly. And no one will be able to lead you astray.
    This is wonderful Hans ...

    Gassho
    Michael



    If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?
    ~ Dogen Zenji

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by ecoist View Post
    Thanks for this thread Willow ... I know for myself I have a tendency to analyze too much, so I try and work with my intuition (my gut). So far, it has been good to me.

    Quote Originally Posted by Hans View Post
    Nobody can authorise your own experience. Find out where the questions come from. Familiarise yourself with that territory - thoroughly. And no one will be able to lead you astray.
    This is wonderful Hans ...

    Gassho
    Michael
    This is all as true as true can be. Nobody else can or should or needs to approve one's realization, not a teacher or anyone outside. It is all encountered inside one's own heart, a matter for settling between one's heart and the mountains and sky (even beyond all idea of "inside or outside or me or mountains or sky"). In fact, I firmly believe that when one reads the stories of a Zen Teacher "approving" a student's understanding (often while disapproving another student's understanding despite the two students voicing the very same words or actions), what is primarily being approved is the student now approving the student's understanding in the student's own heart! The conviction and sincerity of the student ... the student's approving the student ... can be seen by the teacher and is approved. Teacher and Student and Buddha all looking with one Buddha Eye.

    HOWEVER, on the other side of the Coinless Coin, that does not mean that whatever the student becomes convinced about and feels in her heart, however sincerely, is necessarily right! People in this life ... including Zen students ... can convince themselves of all kinds of silly nonsense too! I stumble across folks almost every day (especially here on the internet) who convince themselves that they are "the Second Coming of Buddha" after some passing experience, insight, opening on the Zafu. Most such folks are caught in another kind of delusion, and the job of the Zen Teacher ... as a Dharma Friend ... is to hold an intervention, dump some cold water on the person's head, get them back down to earth and back on track.

    So, bottom line ... nobody can authorize your experience ... and only you know the place you stand and where to walk. However, yes, one can also go astray no matter how convinced that one is on the right road.

    Another one of those Zenny Catch-22's.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 07-17-2012 at 04:05 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  10. #10
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    When I am working on a puzzle, or sorting out zen stuff, I find the pieces that fit together (wherever they may be, edges, middle, etc.) and build from there. In other words, what Willow finds that fits her is where Willow needs to begin her zen puzzle. Asking us where to begin YOUR zen puzzle is asking to put another head on top of your own.

    Happy puzzling to you...
    AL (Jigen) in:
    Faith/Trust
    Courage/Love
    Awareness/Action!

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by AlanLa View Post
    When I am working on a puzzle, or sorting out zen stuff, I find the pieces that fit together (wherever they may be, edges, middle, etc.) and build from there. In other words, what Willow finds that fits her is where Willow needs to begin her zen puzzle. Asking us where to begin YOUR zen puzzle is asking to put another head on top of your own.

    Happy puzzling to you...
    That is exactly right, Al. No other head can be put on to substitute for one's own.

    But there are also straight and crooked heads, Buddha heads and devil heads, clear heads and confused heads in Zen Practice, and the Teacher has to gently help the student find their right own head!

    And in the Perfection of Wisdom no pieces or frame from the start, yet not all puzzle pieces fit no matter our pounding on them to make it so.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 07-18-2012 at 09:51 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by AlanLa View Post
    When I am working on a puzzle, or sorting out zen stuff, I find the pieces that fit together (wherever they may be, edges, middle, etc.) and build from there. In other words, what Willow finds that fits her is where Willow needs to begin her zen puzzle. Asking us where to begin YOUR zen puzzle is asking to put another head on top of your own.

    Happy puzzling to you...
    Hi there Alan - yes - of course you are right - we have to find our own fit. But I'm interested to share other members experience of finding their way through a maze of information.

    As zen is another word for the puzzle of life we've all begun puzzling away from the moment of birth (and maybe before) but I value the guidance from the teaching here so much.

    I'm cracking on in years so I'm looking at all those pieces and thinking well - the puzzle's never going to be finished - but I want it to be pleasing to the heart as well as the eye and the mind.

    This one precious life.

    Gassho

    Willow

  13. #13
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Willow, let me just say that you have already begun your puzzle and are somewhere in the middle of it. I feel fairly certain you are past the middles and edges issues and are working on those tricky inside sections where things don't match as well. I used to love doing puzzles and felt I was fairly good at it, and I appreciated when people came up and put in a few pieces for me here and there. But there is a big difference between a community puzzle and puzzle coaching. Zen's puzzles are individual, not community, but the coaching can become a community such as here. I don't mean to demean your question here at all, because it is very valid, but I think you get lots of puzzle coaching already, and you interact with all your puzzle coaches plenty from what I see on this forum. Maybe the question isn't your question but how to listen to the answers you are already getting, or already know.

    Maybe... You know better than I.
    AL (Jigen) in:
    Faith/Trust
    Courage/Love
    Awareness/Action!

  14. #14
    Hi Al - we're maybe a little at cross purposes here.

    My original question was about Zen learning (or at least all the additional stuff (superfluous philosophy as Jundo terms it) - which I understand isn't necessary to practice and possibly gets in the way. The original question I asked related to a particular point of debate that had 'thrown' me - relating to an author that Jundo had asked us all to read. I felt I needed to ask a question (I did wonder about emailing Jundo about it) but I think he would have asked me to post the question on the message board anyway.
    I then went on to ask how others came at negotiating the mass of teaching/discussion/sometimes contradictory material out there.

    I didn't know the answer to the specific question and appreciated Jundo's feedback. I hope I always give thought to the questions/answers given here - but prefer the term 'teaching' to coaching - and believe this is a reciprocal process between teacher and student.

    I feel expressing that one has been thrown off balance by an argument/point of view isn't the same as seeking validation outside of oneself. There is an expression that I'm fond of called 'the fusion of horizens'. Even if I end up going down lots of dead ends I prefer to open my mind to many points of view - before I make the decision to integrate and hold a thought as my own (fully accepted and felt - rather than just logically accepted). I admit this is sometimes draining to myself - and possibly to others.


    As to the certainty of an inner voice - sometimes in stillness and silence, and sometimes in sound (the laughter of children brings me straight back to the source) - I grasp what might be termed 'already known'. But it's slippery and elusive and no doubt I have a tendency to sabotage things by making every 'answer' a springboard for another question. The perils of philosophy I fear

    I hope this doesn't sound too defensive - it isn't meant to be.

    Gassho

    Willow

  15. #15
    Willow, that all sounds like Wisdom speaking, self awareness of one's own mental games, and good ways to approach learning and Practice. Think about things, then bring them to life on the Zafu and in all of life.

    Gassho, J

    PS - Hope you don't mind the positive feedback and approval, and it doesn't throw you off balance! Approval comes, needed or not!
    Last edited by Jundo; 07-21-2012 at 02:43 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  16. #16
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    My bad. Carry on.
    AL (Jigen) in:
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    Courage/Love
    Awareness/Action!

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