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Thread: Now, for the REALLY stupid questions

  1. #1

    Now, for the REALLY stupid questions

    Now that I've been through Jukai, I feel I can ask the REALLY stupid questions.

    For starters:

    1. Why do so many words in zen begin with z? Zen, zazen, zafu, zabuton, zenji, etc.

    2. Why do we put the rakusu on our heads? Sitting with the rakusu on my head for so long this morning, I couldn't help but wonder.


    Gassho,
    Hensho

    Satlah
    Hensho 編 礁 Knitting Strands / Stranded on a Reef
    "Knit on with confidence and hope through all crises." -Elizabeth Zimmerman

  2. #2
    Hensho;
    I can usually answer stupid questions; but, there are really no stupid questions

    1. Z is for Zen, rather than refer you to volumes of books that explain why what we do is called Zen, I'll just say that Zen is the Japanese way of saying Chan, which is the Chinese way of saying the Sanskrit word dhyāna which translates to meditation or awareness in English.

    1a. is za which means sit. sitting, seated; therefore Zazen is seated meditation (or Awareness) Za- buton is a cushion (to sit on) etc.

    2. There is a very moving story of when Dogen went to China and first saw how the Chinese Monks revered their robes by putting them on there heads to say the robe verse. He was so touched by it that he wept and later was sure to incorporate the practice into Zen when he got back to Japan.

    2a. You would normally place them around your neck after saying the verse but, no one told you to do that this morning. Jundo apologizes for the omission and quietly ask the unsui to remind him if it happens again

    Hope this helps; keep those questions coming.

    gassho, Shokai
    stlah
    仁道 生開 - Jindo Shokai "Open to life in a benevolent way"
    May we all grow together in our knowledge of the Dharma

  3. #3
    I found a link to the chapter/page in Shobogenzo where Dogen tells the story Shokai mentions: https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/re...-thezensite/19 Better yet, read the whole fascicle!

    Gassho,
    Jakuden
    SatToday/LAH
    清 道 寂田
    SEIDO JAKUDEN
    I am a novice priest. Any resemblance my posts may have to actual teachings about the Dharma, living or dead, is purely coincidental (and just my attempt to be helpful).

  4. #4
    Ah, as to you first question on Z ...

    The very word zazen means ‘seated meditation.’ Za means “to sit” and zen is the Japanese pronunciation of the Sanskrit word “dhyana” meaning “meditation.” Chan derives its name from the Chinese term channa, an attempted transliteration of the Sanskrit term dhyana (meditation, concentration). In Japan, it is known as Zen; in Korea, as Son; and in Vietnam, as Thien. "In India, dhyana encompassed a wide variety of techniques for training the mind to attain the deep insight into reality necessary for awakening."

    Back centuries ago both Japanese and Chinese were pronounced quite differently from today, plus there were all kinds of local dialects. The great translator "Red Pine" (Bill Porter) says that the Japanese word "Zen" is closer to how the Chinese used to pronounce the Kanji which the Chinese now read "Ch'an", especially in the dialect in which there was the most interchange between Japan and China back then (read page 3 here) ...

    https://books.google.co.jp/books?id=...20word&f=false

    So, we are actually closer to old Chinese in our saying "Zen" than most of the modern Chinese!

    Of course, a lot of "Zen" words contain, well, "Zen" ... like "Zenji" (Zen Master) and "Zendera" (Zen temple).

    As to the other "Z" words ... I think that it is just a coincidence. "Zabuton" is just an ordinary sitting mat for the floor in a Japanese house. The "Za" of each of "Zabuton" "Zafu" and "Zazan" means "sitting," as Shokai said, so is the same word, and we do a lot of sitting in Zen! Why the "Za" sounds? Well, according to The Sounds of Japanese (Vance 2008), p.85:

    "We'll transcribe [dz] phonemically as /z/ because there's no contrast between [dz] and the voiced lamino-alveolar fricative [z]. Typically, though not consistently, [dz] occurs at the beginning of a word or in the middle of a word immediately following a syllable-final consonant (5.1, 5.6), and [z] occurs in the middle of a word immediately following a vowel. In short, [dz] and [z] are allophones of this /z/ phoneme."
    I hope that helps.

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    Last edited by Jundo; 01-13-2020 at 05:03 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  5. #5
    Why do we place the Rakusu on our heads?

    In Shobogenzo Kesa Kudoku, Dogen Zen does not really explain, except to say that he witnessed this ritual of placing on the Robes while in China and it brought tears to his eyes.

    One can think of many interpretations, such as that it held above with us below in respect, that it is a protective shelter ... it can also crown us.

    I am reminded of certain rather unusual Maitreya Buddha statues found primarily in Korea ...



    Possibly this derives from an ancient hat or crown common to nobility in China and Korea in centuries past ...



    But as an old joke goes, if one needs free hands ... where ya gonna put it?

    Gassho, J

    STLah

    PS - Yes, I did leave you all in that position for awhile. Well, let's start a new tradition for the next 1000 years. I wonder, frankly, how many arcane traditions like that started because someone made a boo boo, and they just decided to keep it from then on.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  6. #6
    Hi Hensho!

    What I am about to say about the kesa and rakusu is by no means official and is just a conjecture created by my deluded mind. I guess I'm totally wrong. Please take it with a pound of salt and slap me if I'm being absurd.

    For what I have been studying in Yoga (as a religion, not just stretching), Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine, living beings have energy points throughout and outside the body. This is the kind of esoteric energy that can't be proven by science. But it's also called prana, chi, mana and so on. It's the energy of life.

    So, some of this points are the chakras. We have 7 of them that flow along our spine. The top one is called Sahasrara and it's the energy point that links our life essence and energy to the flow of the Universal Energy.

    In some traditions people were funny hats or some decoration accessories in the head to either protect, collect or promote life energy from Sahasrara.

    Perhaps placing the okesa in our heads could have this origin? Not sure, but as I read more and more maybe I'll come with some pointers to this.

    Anyway. Like Jundo says, Dogen doesn't explain the origin, but at least to me, it feels right to practice this.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Sat/LAH
    Hondō Kyōnin
    奔道 協忍

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    I wonder, frankly, how many arcane traditions like that started because someone made a boo boo, and they just decided to keep it from then on.
    I'm reminded of a story a Christian minister told me. When he was a boy his church would always cover the communion bread on the altar with a white cloth. One day he wondered why, thinking perhaps it was to show its perceived holiness, or a show of respect, or maybe to demonstrate the "sinless" aspect of Jesus. He approached an elderly woman who was a founding member of the church and questioned her, ready for some deep, meaningful answer. She told him that when the building was constructed there was no air conditioning so they had to keep the windows open in the summer. When they noticed that flies were coming in and landing on the bread, her husband threw a clean handkerchief from his pocket over it, which happened to be white. The tradition persisted after he died because that's just what they always did. But that's all it was. Just a way to keep the flies off.

    Shinshou (Daniel)
    Sat Today

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Kyonin View Post
    Hi Hensho!

    What I am about to say about the kesa and rakusu is by no means official and is just a conjecture created by my deluded mind. I guess I'm totally wrong. Please take it with a pound of salt and slap me if I'm being absurd.

    For what I have been studying in Yoga (as a religion, not just stretching), Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine, living beings have energy points throughout and outside the body. This is the kind of esoteric energy that can't be proven by science. But it's also called prana, chi, mana and so on. It's the energy of life.

    So, some of this points are the chakras. We have 7 of them that flow along our spine. The top one is called Sahasrara and it's the energy point that links our life essence and energy to the flow of the Universal Energy.

    In some traditions people were funny hats or some decoration accessories in the head to either protect, collect or promote life energy from Sahasrara.

    Perhaps placing the okesa in our heads could have this origin? Not sure, but as I read more and more maybe I'll come with some pointers to this.

    Anyway. Like Jundo says, Dogen doesn't explain the origin, but at least to me, it feels right to practice this.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Sat/LAH
    Hmm. Well, that is NOT an official interpretation of this Sangha. Kyonin is studying Chinese medicine, but I am more of a Chakra and energy skeptic. I don't believe in such systems myself except as placebo (although, well, the placebo effect is real and powerful). So, let's just stay with respect as the reason. Master Dogen never indicated any basis for the custom like that.

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    Last edited by Jundo; 01-13-2020 at 08:22 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Shinshou View Post
    I'm reminded of a story a Christian minister told me. When he was a boy his church would always cover the communion bread on the altar with a white cloth. One day he wondered why, thinking perhaps it was to show its perceived holiness, or a show of respect, or maybe to demonstrate the "sinless" aspect of Jesus. He approached an elderly woman who was a founding member of the church and questioned her, ready for some deep, meaningful answer. She told him that when the building was constructed there was no air conditioning so they had to keep the windows open in the summer. When they noticed that flies were coming in and landing on the bread, her husband threw a clean handkerchief from his pocket over it, which happened to be white. The tradition persisted after he died because that's just what they always did. But that's all it was. Just a way to keep the flies off.

    Shinshou (Daniel)
    Sat Today
    Ah, lovely. This is the cat story ...


    When the Zen master and his disciples began their evening Zazen, the cat who lived in the monastery made such noise that it distracted them. So the master ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice. Years later, when the master died, the cat continued to be tied up during the Zazen session. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up. Centuries later, learned descendants of the Zen master wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for Zazen practice.




    Gassho, J

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  10. #10
    3. All else aside, isn't the rakusu really just kind of a medieval ID badge?

    Gassho

    Nenka

    ST

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Nenka View Post
    3. All else aside, isn't the rakusu really just kind of a medieval ID badge?

    Gassho

    Nenka

    ST
    Well, depends how the heart takes things.

    For that other religion, a crucifix is a symbol for their entire path, but for other folks it is just two old pieces of wood glued together.

    A peace sign, or national flag, is just a shape and pattern ... or it stands for principles, shared culture a people living together.

    Your mom's old dress is a memory of your mom ... or just an old dress.

    So, the Rakusu, which is a Kesa, a Buddhist Robe ... is also just old cloth or something which holds and expresses more ...

    Robe of liberation boundless, field beyond both form and formless, wearing the Tathagata's Teachings, Vowing to free all Sentient Beings ...

    Gassho, J

    STLah

    PS - During the Jukai, I notice that we had the Kesa Verse there as "free" rather than "save" all Sentient Beings. That came from a discussion we had once about how "save" carries some heavy baggage for some who feel they left the other religion of their youth. Frankly, you can say either, as your heart wishes ... for it is just a Translation of terms, and both are fine.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  12. #12
    Indeed. I still remember the funny look my mom gave me the time she asked about my rakusu and I tried to explain that wearing it was like wearing the Buddha's teachings.

    Gassho,

    Nenka

    ST

  13. #13
    how many arcane traditions like that started because someone made a boo boo,
    Jundo;

    I was just going to mention tying the cat up when I saw your post. But, the other reference could be similar to putting sandals on the head after hearing about Nansen's cutting of the cat?

    gassho, Shokai
    stlah
    仁道 生開 - Jindo Shokai "Open to life in a benevolent way"
    May we all grow together in our knowledge of the Dharma

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