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Thread: Zen and the Eightfold Path

  1. #1

    Zen and the Eightfold Path

    Hi Jundo and Taigu,

    Leading up to my upcoming ordination in August I have been doing some personal preparation. Ive been reading and a lot of thinking about the four noble truths, the Eightfold path and the Bodhisattva Precepts. I had a couple of questions that I was hoping you could answer for me or at least point me in the right direction.

    1. Why do we (soto zen or zen in particular) not seem to specifically discuss the four noble truths and the eightfold path? The eightfold path seems very straightforward and pragmatic and foundational.

    2. Did the Bodhisattva precepts evolve from the Eightfold path? If so why was this evolution needed? What was the need to clarify?

    3. Both the precepts and the eightfold path seem so similar. Why two?



  2. #2
    Hi Daido,

    Oh, our Practice arises from the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path, same for us and about every other flavor of Buddhist I know. Maybe it just seems so because, in this rich and varied world of Zen and Mahayana, we talk about so many many aspects of Practice that it just seems that we don't focus exclusively there. For example, we talk about "Dukkha" and "Right Livelihood" and "Right Effort" and all the rest quite frequently around here. Here is my series on "Buddha Basics" which introduces each of those basic Teachings for newer folks ...

    The Precepts are an expression of the Eightfold Path portions that emphasize "ethics" (together with Wisdom and Mental Discipline) ...

    Now, the question of how Buddhism developed and evolved as it moved from India to North Asia, from the so-called "Hinayana Lesser Vehicle" to the "Mahayana", how the Precepts evolved is a big one. I might say (of course, as a Soto Zen Mahayana Teacher, I have a perspective on the issue that a Theravada Teacher in Burma might not agree with) that the original "Eightfold Path" was too bare bones, and all that followed fleshed it out ... much like computer code in the 1960's was the foundation for (and remains so) but also too bare bones for the needs of sophisticated game programming in the years that followed, and the different cultural settings too! The Precepts evolved as they moved from China to Japan and now to the West to allow for more flexibility, "out in the world" Perspectives and a greater emphasis on Lay Practice outside a monastic setting (especially in the modern West). Even the Buddha found that the "bare bones" of the Eightfold Path Teachings on Ethics were not enough, and he had to expand on that with the Vinaya (a phone book sized compilation of rules for monks that tell them everything from the kind of chairs it is okay and not okay to sit in, to what to do if a woman walks in the room, and what definitely not to do if a woman tries to sit in your chair with you! ).

    After you Ordain, we will spend some time each month studying General Buddhist, Mahayana and Zen history, as any Zen Priest needs familiarity with all that. However, in the meantime (for BUDDHIST HISTORY GEEKS ONLY ... MOST FOLKS DO NOT NEED ALL THE DETAIL ) a very good book is this one (make sure it is the newer, 2nd Edition if you can ...)

    Mahayana Buddhism, The Doctrinal Foundations, by Paul Williams

    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 01-26-2014 at 06:46 PM.

  3. #3
    Thank you Daido for these great questions and thank you Jundo for the clarity. =)

    倫道 真現

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.

  4. #4
    Thanks Jundo



  5. #5
    Thanks for questions and answers.

  6. #6

    Zen and the Eightfold Path

    Daido and Jundo thank you. I agree with Daido that the Eightfold Path is very practical and action oriented - sort of like a Zen hitchikers guide to the universe!


  7. #7
    Excellent question (one that I too have thought about) and excellent response. Thank you!


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