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Thread: Discovering Buddha Nature

  1. #1

    Discovering Buddha Nature

    Hi all,

    Hope everyone is well. I was thinking, if We all have Buddha nature and coming to the realization of that is the essence of Buddhism, why did our past Buddhist monks, priests what have you do things like sit in front of wall for years, starve themselves and put themselves through masochistic actions in order to realize this. In Dogen's time I believe this was the normal practice and please correct me if I'm wrong. Do other schools of Buddhist thought still practice similar endeavors?

  2. #2
    Sometimes one must work hard to realize what was all along.

    Sometimes one must work diligently, in this moment and this moment and this, to bring this "here all along" to life.

    Sometimes one must fan hard, sometimes one lays back and feels the breeze naturally across one's cheek.

    HOWEVER, some folks of the past (even today) would undertake EXTREME self-punishment and deprivation to get free of the self, free of the body. Some Hindu Yogis still do, believing that the body and pain must be overcome. The Buddha once tried it before his Enlightenment, as depicted in art like this, and rejected the Practice.

    "I thought: 'Suppose I take very little food , a handful each time, whether of bean-soup or lentil soup or vetch soup or pea-soup. So I took very little food ,a handful each time, whether of bean soup or lentil soup or vetch soup or pea soup. While I did so, my body reached a state of extreme emaciation. Because of eating so little my limbs became like the jointed segments of vine stems or bamboo stems. Because of eating so little my buttocks became like a camel's hoof. Because of eating so little the projec-tion on my spine stood forth like corded beads. Because of eating so little my ribs jut-ted out as gaunt as the crazy rafters of an old roofless barn. Because of eating so little the gleam of my eyes sank far down in their sockets, looking like the gleam of water that is far down in a deep well. ...

    But by this racking practice of austerities I have not attained any super human states, any distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones. "Finally the ascetic Gotama himself understood the vainness of austerities and the significance of practising the Middle Path, taking sufficient food . Having taken solid food he practised meditation and as a result he attained Supreme Enlightenment.

    Although there is a time for pushing hard, the Buddha preached the Middle Way ... not too hard, neither to lax and negligent.

    Dogen tells this story in the Genjo ...

    lthough actualized immediately, the inconceivable may not be apparent. Its appearance is beyond your knowledge. Zen master Baoche of Mt. Mayu was fanning himself. A monk approached and said, "Master, the nature of wind is ever-present and there is no place it does not reach. When, then, do you fan yourself?"

    "Although you understand that the nature of the wind is ever-present," Baoche replied, "you do not understand the meaning of its reaching everywhere."

    "What is the meaning of its reaching everywhere?" asked the monk again. The master just kept fanning himself. The monk bowed deeply.

    The actualization of the buddha-dharma, the vital path of its correct transmission, is like this. If you say that you do not need to fan yourself because the nature of wind is ever-present and you can have wind without fanning, you will understand neither ever-present nor the nature of wind. The nature of wind is ever-present; because of that, the wind of the buddha's house brings for the gold of the earth and makes fragrant the cream of the long river.
    Yes, some Buddhists of the present still engage in some extreme Practices, such as burning off the fingers. Very similar to how some Christian mystics will whip and burn themselves to deny the flesh. I believe this a misinterpretation of things.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 01-25-2014 at 04:34 AM.

  3. #3

  4. #4
    Hi Onken

    Further to what Jundo has said, ascestic practices such as extreme fasting, minimal sleep and feats of physical endurance (whirling, non-stop dancing and such like) can produce mental effects that seem like (and may be) enlightenment experiences. They are rarely sustainable, though, and merely a product of the physical strain on the body. Slow and gentle is the Soto way (okay maybe not always gentle but consistent and persistent rather than pushing too hard), with realisation being practice itself.

    Buddhism has long had a tradition of hermits and sitting in a cave for nine years is a pretty dedicated way to practice. By the time he did this Bodhidharma was an experienced (if not enlightened) practitioner and maybe ready for taking himself away to attain further realisation. Done too early in our practice, this kind of intensity would probably instead drive us mad! However, in addition to consistent daily sitting, Jundo and other Soto Zen teachers encourage doing Sesshin which are periods of concentrated and sustained practice.

    The apparent paradox in Buddhism is why should we practice, and sometimes practice hard, if we already have Buddha nature? Jundo's example of Master Baoche fanning himself is about just this. Although we may logically understand that our essential nature is open and empty, experiencing this as truth needs practice.


  5. #5
    Just a couple of notes on what Kokuu wrote:

    Bodhidharma is a semi-fictional character, mostly legend. I would not take too literally his "9 years facing the wall", until his arms and legs withered away! I mean, at the very least, I assume he stopped for lunch, sleep and bathroom breaks.

    Next, although the Soto Way may be described as Kokuu says, "Slow and gentle ... consistent and persistent ... with realisation being practice itself", most Soto folks would still say that Soto Zen is a school of "Sudden Awakening". Why? Well, we can awake suddenly in any moment ... now and now and now, and such "sudden awakening" come again and again in many forms as we walk down the path. Oh, there is a "gradual" aspect too to both Soto and Rinzai Zen. In the Rinzai approach too, after some moment of great Awakening, one still has to slowly and steadily incorporate this Buddhist Way into one's life step by step. Thus, both Soto and Rinzai are Sudden AND Gradual or, better said, transcend both descriptions.

    Buddhism in many places still has a tradition of hermits. Different strokes for different folks, and some find their place of Practice and Liberation in the crowded cities and family homes, some in monasteries, some in caves or forests.

    Yes, in my view, there is a time to head to Sesshin, if one can, to wrestle a bit with the "me myself and i".

    While here we encourage daily sitting of but a few minutes a day if ... ... meeting each instant of sitting as an expression of All-Time and Being ...

    ... we also request, if at all possible, that folks join in with a group one longer residential "Sesshin" per year of from 3 to 7 days eacy year ...

    Now, someone might ask too, "if each moment is all time and space, what is the purpose of an intensive Sesshin?" Well, I often say that, sometimes, we need to practice a bit long and hard, morning to night ... sitting and wrestling with 'me, my self and I' ... all to attain Nothing to Attain! Going to Retreats, Sesshin and such is a powerful facet of this Practice and not to be missed.
    Gassho, J

  6. #6
    Thank you.

    "Recognize suffering, remove suffering." - Shakyamuni Buddha when asked, "Uhm . . .what?"

  7. #7
    Yes, thank you Jundo, Kokuu. I've enjoyed reading this.

    Amongst White Clouds is a beautiful film.


  8. #8
    <Disclaimer>This post comes from a personal perspective. I am speaking for what I have read and experimented on myself because I'm not well in the head By no means I am encouraging people to do the same and if you want to do any extreme practice, please be responsible and consult your physician first. Please note that when I speak about fasting it means only a few hours with no food, that's different from starvation, which will put your life at risk.</Disclaimer>

    Hi all,

    Going to the extreme has always been part of exploring spirituality. In the past, before science and psychology studied this, it was believed that fasting or walking into the desert for days, opened up the gates for divinity.

    If you pay attention to ancient stories where sages had visions and visits from the divine, men always were in an altered states of consciousness after walking for 40 days with no food or after long periods of meditation.

    Yes, going to the extreme a little frees you from the self and allows you to reach higher planes of concentration.

    I have experimented this some times when I fast and sit zazenkai. I practice intermittent fasting as a way to keep in good shape and health, but I was surprised when I realized that zazen got deeper and my focus was like a laser.

    Also when running long distances I get to the same place in my mind. I get super concentrated and time and space seem to bend around me.

    For what I have read in several books, what fasting do is that after the 14th or 16th hour without food, your body starts to destroy toxins and all the residue of bad nutrients you consumed (like sugar and grain). In this phase your body starts to heal itself from harm and starts repairing your brain cell connections. This might be the reason why it's easier to concentrate when fasting.

    Running long distances does the same, but at a little faster rate.Your body consumes sugars, fat and uses glycogen stored in your liver. This frees up the brain from bad stuff you ate a few hours before. Thus concentration is improved.

    Same happened while training Aikido for 6 hours at retreats.

    After saying that, going to the extremes is not necessary for all people and it mostly happens by accident, I think.

    The middle way and being wise and responsible for your body is also a great spiritual practice.

    But then again, I could be wrong.


    Hondō Kyōnin
    奔道 協忍

  9. #9
    Thank you for the clarification, Jundo.

  10. #10

    just my two cents. One person's practise heaven can be another one's hell. We must never forget that we are all different. If someone with a very weak libido chooses a full classical vinaya lifestyle, not having sex is hardly an accomplishment. In the same way sitting still for even five minutes might actually be a very extreme form of practise for someone who is suffering badly from hyper activity.

    Let's be careful not to judge and classify other people's practise too easily.


    Hans Chudo Mongen

  11. #11
    Thank you everyone, some nice clarity. =)


  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Hans View Post

    just my two cents. One person's practise heaven can be another one's hell. We must never forget that we are all different. If someone with a very weak libido chooses a full classical vinaya lifestyle, not having sex is hardly an accomplishment. In the same way sitting still for even five minutes might actually be a very extreme form of practise for someone who is suffering badly from hyper activity.

    Let's be careful not to judge and classify other people's practise too easily.


    Hans Chudo Mongen
    Excellent reminder. Let's be careful not to judge and classify other people's practise too easily ... nor compare your own "out in the world" Practice if being done with sincerity and energy.

    Gassho, J

  13. #13
    Kyonin, I too follow intermittent fasting for my calisthenics routine.As long as it is not overdone (fasting for days) I see no issues and have only recognized great results.


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    "Those who see worldly life as an obstacle to Dharma see no Dharma in everyday actions. They have not yet discovered that there are no everyday actions outside of Dharma."

    - Dogen Zenji

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