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Thread: Real Dragons

  1. #1

    Real Dragons

    Hello all,

    I am currently reading To Meet the Real Dragon, by Gudo Wadu Nishijima Roshi; and Jeff Bailey. I wanted to get a little more insight into who Gudo Roshi was and this book is definitely worth the time in my opinion. Some of the concepts that Gudo Roshi discusses have been discussed previously regarding some of his ideas, particularly about merging Buddhist concepts with Western scientific concepts like the Autonomic Nervous System and philosophy such as Idealism, Materialism etc.

    Here is a very good thread where Jundo discusses this for a frame of reference.

    There were a couple things that came up for me reading this that I wish to share/ have some clarity on.

    The first is, Gudo Roshi doesn't really mince words when he talks about the state of Zen Buddhism in modern Japan as having largely deteriorated into a Funeral Practice in which priest really don't practice that much instead of basically serving as a function for society. According to them many don't have or find the time to sit much. This was around 20 years ago. I wonder if anyone who knows could comment on the situation now? and also on his impression of it.

    The second has to do with something that has been nagging in the back of my mind since I began this practice last summer. Gudo Roshi talks about how one of the struggles he has/had with conventional Buddhist thinking is the very premise of the first Noble Truth. That yes life CAN be suffering, but it isn't JUST suffering either. He then goes on at great length to talk about how this understanding of the First Noble Truth may not have been quite historically accurate, that through time and translations through various languages that something is missing from the original explanation or intent of this understanding. As other's have suggested in the post link I cited above, the conclusions about what this all DOES mean, that Gudo Roshi comes up with about separating the 4 Noble truths into levels of Western Philosophy do seem a bit of a stretch. And YET, does he perhaps not have a point with his original question about the "true" understanding of the First Noble Truth? There does seem to be SOMETHING in what Roshi is saying that resonates with me here.

    I have stirred the pot now I will let other's taste

    Last edited by Ishin; 04-02-2014 at 07:55 PM.

  2. #2
    I have also found the First Noble Truth when described as "Life is Suffering" to not quite hit the mark for me. One of the better explanations I have read is from a Dharma Talk from the White Wind Zen Community where dukkha is described as "bad space". Here is an excerpt from that talk:
    Life is not suffering. As the Roshi's translation says,

    "Conditioned experiencing is suffering. Life is life. Experiencing which is conditioned by anything whatsoever, so that there are obstructions or obscurations, closes down, contracts, and filters experiencing. Everything that is experienced is filtered through that obstruction and thereby distorted."

    Now, pain, a pain in the knee for example, that's something that I'm sure, I'm just guessing here, I'm sure we've all experienced it; a pain in the knee when we are sitting is what the bodymind is doing and there's very good reason for that because we are being stretched. The bodymind is being stretched. When those experiences, when those sensations are attended to openly we can notice that those sensations are not constant, they are not solid, and they are not a thing. Sensations flicker and change, sometimes opening completely and dropping away.

    We have a tendency to give rise to thoughts about that pain and to allow attention to move into thoughts about the pain. The pain and the thoughts about the pain are two entirely different things. As we allow attention to fall into the thoughts we are distancing ourselves from this moment of experiencing, from the experiencing of the sensations. We are creating a concept of what pain is, what it means, what the consequences are and, "Why me? Why me? What did I do to deserve this pain?" We become so busy with our fantasies and our stories about what we are experiencing that it is, indeed, as if we are no longer experiencing those sensations. Everything is filtered through the obstruction we have created. Seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, feeling, smelling, are obscured by the story we have created. That causes us to suffer. The space of open experiencing is corrupted. This is suffering. This is dukkha.

    "Dukkha" has its roots in Sanskrit. "Du" means bad, "kkha" means space. The word "dukkha" is describing bad space. A classic metaphor is of the hole that the axle of a wheel passes through being broken or blocked. So, fundamentally, with dukkha there is a sense that things don't work, things are not working out for us. 'Why me?" and, of course, things aren't working out because we are creating the obstruction which has broken the openness of experiencing into self and other, this and that. When we notice that this is what we are doing we can practice: we feel the breath rising and falling in the body in this moment. This is life.

    There are four kinds of "dukkha" described: the dukkha of not getting what we want; the dukkha of getting what we want and losing it; the dukkha of getting what we don't want; and then, the dukkha of dukkhas, the inevitability of suffering that follows along after the introduction of the image of a self. So, the moment contraction occurs in the bodymind and obscures open experiencing we have self and, necessarily at that moment, the misunderstanding that everything else is other. ~ And let the suffering commence. And it does until we are fortunate enough to arrive in a place where we can receive the Teachings of Reality and where we can practice.

    ...a place to practice like Treeleaf, here and now, opening around contraction, suffering, dukkha, bad space...into the present moment...


    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk

  3. #3
    Thanks for your post Jason

  4. #4
    Hi Clark,

    The situation remains that the vast majority of Japanese Zen priests and temples, Rinzai and Soto (and really all Buddhist schools in Japan) primarily serve to provide funerals and memorial services to parishioners and not much beyond that. Of course, this is an important aspect of Ancestor Worship in Asian culture, but only a small number of temples offer Zazen meetings and most of the priests do not sit Zazen themselves. The main reason is the temple inheritance system, with sons forced into the priesthood, not for spiritual calling, but to take over the family temple. More here:

    As to the Four Noble Truths ... Nishijima Roshi was a brilliant man, but he had a very eccentric view of the Four Noble Truths. I do not know anyone in the many flavors of Buddhism who would express them as he did. On the other hand, the POINT he was trying to make about the Four Noble Truths is itself quite good. Further, even Nishijima said he was not trying to replace the traditional view of the Four Truths, so much as add another way of viewing them.

    The Four Noble Truths, in their tradititional interpretation, should not be hard to understand. It is not "life is suffering". It is that our dissatisfaction with life "as it is" (as opposed to how we would want it to be) is suffering. Here is my simple explanation from our Buddha-Basics series.

    Buddha-Basics (Part I) — Scooby Dooby Dukkha

    Buddha-Basics (Part II) — Noble Truths

    More here:

    The White Wind explanation is about the same. There is a difference between (1) pain and (2) suffering in a Buddhist sense, which is the dissatisfaction and dissappointment at the gap between how things are (e.g., pain) and how we would want this life-world to be (e.g., no pain).

    After you review the above talks on Dukkha, see if it is so unclear.

    I am presently in the process of reissuing one of his books in which Nishijima Roshi discusses the Four Noble Truths.

    Gassho, Jundo

  5. #5
    I've always felt as though the First Noble Truth was meant to be an like an alarm clock. They may seem loud and at times annoying, but the alarm clock isn't aiming to be irritating, it's simply stating "Hey man, it's time to wake up." If the First Noble Truth was instead softly saying life is usually pretty easy but we may experience some difficulty, we'd probably just want to crawl back under our blankets.

    If I say, no life isn't always suffering, there are plenty of times when life is satisfying; aren't I, in that very instant of thought, creating difficulty for myself? I don't believe saying "Life is suffering" is condemning us to unhappy lives.

    Let's just get out of bed and see what the day brings.

    My $.02

    Gassho, H
    Smile, breathe, and go slowly.

  6. #6
    Thank you everyone for your responses.

    Jundo it may/may not surprise you that I have actually looked at every one of your talks.. ... Did I understand them? Maybe. Perhaps I oversimplified my question, I will look into the exact statements made and post them here. I am very much on board with the conventional thought on the 4 Noble truths, hence part of my participation here to begin with.

    Thanks for the link about Japan, very interesting. I look forward to your book.

    Last edited by Ishin; 04-03-2014 at 07:21 PM.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    Hi Clark,

    As to the Four Noble Truths ... Nishijima Roshi was a brilliant man, but he had a very eccentric view of the Four Noble Truths. I do not know anyone in the many flavors of Buddhism who would express them as he did. On the other hand, the POINT he was trying to make about the Four Noble Truths is itself quite good. Further, even Nishijima said he was not trying to replace the traditional view of the Four Truths, so much as add another way of viewing them.
    OK yes this gets to the crux of my question and I found more what I was looking for in this book:

    So yes that is what I am getting at, I agree with his POINT, that we maybe need to accept more flexible interpretations of the 4 Noble Truths. Not sure I agree with his. But if we can't necessarily in fact know EXACTLY what Gautama Buddha said, is the traditional view here enough? I think the Buddha Basics links above do an excellent job, don't get me wrong, and perhaps the traditional view IS enough, however I do wonder what/if deeper meaning there is here to the perhaps OVER simplified traditional view. Has there ever been other views other than Gudo Roshi's?

  8. #8
    Hi all.

    Just adding my two small grains of dust.

    Once I read that the First Noble Truth should be understood as life INCLUDES suffering.

    Not everything is suffering or bad. We take life for what it is, it doesn't matter if it's fun or boring, light or dark. It's just life.

    What changes things is our relationship with life and how our mind distorts things according to our ego.

    Or something like that


    Please remember I am only a priest in training. I could be wrong in everything I say. Slap me if needed.

    The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Mr. Spock

  9. #9
    Hi Clark,

    Historians have pointed out that a major change in tone happened to Buddhism when it moved from the more "life is suffering, we must end the cycle of rebirth and get the heck out of here" Indian culture to the more "life ain't so bad" Chinese attitude which became dominant in the Mahayana. The Chinese found a more "cake and eat it too" approach which allowed "escape" from suffering and the "cycle of rebirth" even while in the world. Here, for example, is one scholar's description (although the long term goal of somewhere down the road "becoming Buddha" still remains in the Mahayana [even for us Zennies], it is rather less emphasized in favor of the "we are already Buddha but don't know it" approach). Is this a change from the "Buddha's Original Teachings"? Well, the Mahayana folks (and that includes us Zen folks) tend to say that the Buddha just taught different ways for different peoples' needs ...

    There are certain characteristics of Indian Buddhism, moreover, which were abhorrent, or at least incomprehensible, to the practical Chinese mind. With its tradition of asceticism inherited from Hindu thought, the Indian Buddhist could easily embrace the kind of deferred gratification prescribed in meditation (meditate and fast moderately now; attain Nirvana later).

    The Chinese, immersed in a tradition which celebrated hard work and a satisfying life of the senses---including the sense of humor---undoubtedly chuckled at this and other attitudes and practices which seemed other-worldly and irrelevant to day-to-day life.


    Buddhism holds that life is suffering, not evil, such as some of the Hindu pundits of the time proclaimed. [D.T.] Suzuki claimed that Mahayana Buddhism (the variety which was accepted in China ) was the "first...teaching in India that contradicted the doctrine of Nirvana as conceived by other Hindu thinkers. The Nirvana of the Hindu yogis was a complete annihilation of being, for they thought that existence is evil, and evil is misery, and the only way to escape misery is to destroy the root of existence, which is nothing less than the total cessation of human desires and activities in Nirvanic unconsciousness."8 This is a point of view antithetical to Chinese thought. It is also a point of view which betrays Suzuki's own bias against Hindu thought; Paramahansa Yogananda, for example, a highly regarded yogi of the 20th century, said existence was not evil, but the play or game of God.
    Gassho, J

  10. #10
    Thanks Kyonin.

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