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Thread: Chinese roots of Zen

  1. #1

    Chinese roots of Zen

    I'm interested in what this group thinks of the following two sources on the Chinese roots of Zen: (review, one of a few: and

    Summarizing the argument: of all the words and representations Buddhism could have used in its migration from India to China, it opted for words and characters that strongly resonated with Daoism. In doing so, Zen adopted a fundamentally Daoist view on mind and nature. In that context, and as a single example, the character for Wu/Mu means 'no' as well as a principle of Absence, a 'generative tissue' that gives rise to 'Presence' (or the ten thousand things). I do find an understanding of this background good to also better understand some of the wild dance we find in, for instance, Dogen. In the migration to the US from Japan, most of the Daoism ends up mystified and exploited in a Zen perplexity that is alien to this origin. A better understanding of these Chinese roots will help to enrich our practice. STLah

    PS: This all sounds very intellectual and 'just words', and it is. Although I think this background enriches practice if one already practices, it will do nothing without it.
    Last edited by onematonly; 08-02-2021 at 10:48 PM.

  2. #2

    We had a discussion about China Root a while back:

    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  3. #3
    Hi Onematonly,

    Yes, in a one sentence nutshell, there is no doubt at all that Chan developed as Indian Buddhism came to China and mixed with Chinese sensibilities (including certain aspects of Daoism and its perspectives on the absolute and such ... although not all aspects, such as not its alchemical search from immortality various other more fanciful beliefs), then later came to Japan and mixed with Japanese sensibilities to become "Zen."

    However, Mr. Hinton way, WAY overstates his case, for the reasons described in the review that Kokku linked to. He also has a bad habit of reading Chinese/Japanese Kanji characters too literally.

    That said, I thought that Mr. Hinton's book way, way overstated his case by arguing that Zen is just Taoism in Buddhist skin, rather than traditional Buddhist Teachings (e.g., all the Suttas and Sutras from India, basic doctrines such as "non-self" and "Dukkha" and emptiness via Nagarjuna) expressed with a lot of Taoist flavoring and spice. It is just a matter of degree, but he overdoes it. I had the feeling that, to make his case, he cherry picked and left out a lot of Taoism beliefs that are quite distinct and that did not really become a part of Buddhism (if you read the essay about "Dark Learning," for example, you will see many differences as well as common ground). I thought that he was also a bit romantic in presentation, and saw or assumed things which he claimed without real evidence to back it up. Finally, his habit of translating by looking at the too literal meaning of the elements of some Chinese characters, and imposing English on Chinese and Japanese names, was a bit annoying to me as a translator. He seemed to have an anti-Japanese bias in the book too which mischaracterized some important aspects of Japanese, and especially Soto, Zen. So, I would take the book as a bit extreme, as someone bending over backwards to say that "Zen is just Taoism, with a little Buddhism." It is not.

    Sorry to have run long.

    Gassho, Jundo


    ** Would you mind signing a human first name, or Dharma Name if one? Keeps things a bit more human round here. Thank you.

  4. #4
    PS - I hope it okay that I moved this thread to the "Zen" section ...

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