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Thread: Sentient

  1. #1


    Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them.

    Who are the sentient beings?

  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Nyima View Post
    Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them.

    Who are the sentient beings?
    Hi Paul,

    Might I trouble you to put a human face photo, and to mark that you have sat Zazen in the prior day before posting. It is how we sentient beings keep things a little more human and focused on practice around here. Thank you.

    As to your question, there are a few ways and beyond ways to define "sentient beings" in Mahayana Buddhism and Zen. Of course, "sentience" generally means being self-aware, and is something limited to human beings in this world, and maybe some animals.

    Dogen (and Tendai and some other Mahayana Buddhists) sometimes spoke of "sentience" for seemingly insentient things, like stones and lanterns. For example, in Shobogenzo Mujo-Seppo (The Insentient Preach the Dharma), Dogen wrote ...

    According to the opinions of foolish people, the rustling of trees in the forest, the opening of flowers, and the falling of leaves are believed to be nonsentient things expressing the Dharma, but such people are not persons who have learned what the Buddha taught. If it were so, then who couldnot hear the Dharma that is expressed by the nonsentient? For the moment, you should reflect on whether or not there are grasses and trees and forests in the realm of the nonsentient, and whether or not the realm of the nonsentient is intersecting, or mingling with, that of the sentient. At the same time, to take such things as grasses and trees or tiles and stones to be nonsentient is to be less than fully educated. And to believe that being nonsentient means being grass and trees or tiles and stones is to tire of exploring the Matter. ... [S]uch things as grass and trees are not something that the mental efforts of ordinary, worldly people actually take measure of. ... In sum, there are those things that need to be explored as being sentient and there are those things that need to be explored as being nonsentient. And there are grasses and trees that resemble humans and animals when the differences between the sentient and the nonsentient have not yet been made clear.
    One thing is to know that Dogen, and many of the Tendai folks before him (Dogen came out of the Tendai tradition and taught from many of its perspectives throughout his life), did not necessarily mean "sentient" for plants and stones etc. in the same way that they mean for people and some animals. Dogen knew that stones are not the same as people, and it is unclear that he meant that stones and plants are actually "aware" in some way. It is more maybe like saying "Well, we (plants, stones, humans) are all the universe/Buddha, and we humans are alive and sentient, and plants and stones are just the universe/Buddha too, so our sentience is the whole universe come alive, and the whole universe coming alive is all things and beings in it including you and me, whereby the plants and stones are each our life, all interflowing and intra-identical, so our sentience between our ears includes them and the whole thing, while our sentience is just the life and sentience of the whole thing, and the whole thing includes them and our sentience is just the whole etc. etc. "

    It is not so much that rocks and plants are "sentient," as that humans and rocks and plants all share "Buddha Nature." He said that insentient things "preach" the Dharma, but not really with words. Here are an essay on this view in Tendai by historian Robert Sharf.

    Finally, we all know the Koan "Does a dog have Buddha nature?" Some say yes, some say no ... some just pet the dog.

    Gassho, Jundo


  3. #3
    thank you for that article.
    From Joan Halifax: Creations are numberless, I vow to free them.

    May I pet the cat?
    Sat today

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