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Thread: 7/6 - Authority p.15

  1. #1

    7/6 - Authority p.15

    Hey Hey,

    This chapter ties in nicely with the discussion we've been having on 'Lineage'.

    I particularly like ...

    If we truly are each moment of our life there is no room for an outside influence or authority. Where could it be? When I am just my own suffering where is the authority> The attention, the experiencing is the authority, and it is also the clarification of the action to be done.
    By the way, as for me ... better than 'Guide', please think of me as the 'court jester', the 'poolside life guard' or maybe the 'head waiter'. Not sure which.

    Gassho, J

  2. #2
    I keep hearing that the last words of the Buddha were "Be a lamp unto yourself," but according to the Pali Canon's Maha-parinibbana sutta they were:

    "Now, then, monks, I exhort you: All fabrications are subject to decay. Bring about completion by being heedful."
    Is the "lamps unto yourselves" from the Mahayana Paranirvana sutra? I've never found a good translation of the sutra, so I've only read bits of it.

  3. #3
    I have to admit, this book isnít ďhookingĒ me very much. Perhaps part of it is the fact that Iím reading it in order to discuss it; that context changes the way I read it. Instead of reading for insight, Iím reading for good points or bad points to discuss. Of course, that may just be me, but I canít let go of the idea that if we are discussing the book, it is to intellectualize on its contents.

    So today, in the latest section, I read this:

    ď...we would never be looking for an authority if we had any confidence in ourselves and our understanding.Ē
    I have to give a resounding, NO! to that statement.

    Why do we look for authority? Because we donít know things, we donít understand things. Because we have the humility to admit that we donít understand things. Those who canít admit this will never seek authority because they think they know everything. When we seek, we want to learn. Of course, we can get into a cycle of seeking, give up our confidence, and put off our understanding, but the initial seeking of authority comes, for most people, from a desire to learn. Some people may not be able to function without an authority figure, and that is a more sever problem, but the idea of putting ourselves in a position of wanting-to-learn is not a negative.

    Suggesting that people only listen to themselves, that it is only themselves who can provide answers and truth, is not only erroneous but dangerous. Too many people only listen to themselves, and we see the way the world goes with that. No, I think there is a need for balance; for understanding that authority and external knowledge have value, but then that the true decisions can only come from within. I donít know about the rest of you, but I have made very few major decisions of my life in a vacuum; I have always sought out the opinions of others, if only to provide a counterpoint to my thoughts.

    Iím sorry to sound negative; Iím finding that this book, so far (I havenít read ahead) is not much different from others, but there is a slightly know-it-all tone that comes through. Iím not hearing the humility that Iíve heard in many other books on Zen or meditation. Again, this could be, in part, due to the context of reading this book in order to discuss it. If so, my humble apologies for being negative.


  4. #4
    Hi Kirk,

    Maybe I can suggest you to look again at the very last paragraph of the section ... see if that says something you were saying.

    In Zen, many things are both points of view at once, and neither.

    Gassho, J

  5. #5
    i wasn't really prepared to comment yet, but i feel compelled to do so by kirk's obvious passion for the subject at hand (which further kindled my own).

    and to this i say "authority" is the phase which may need challenging. here we will reference Merriam-Webster (i looked at a few sources, and this is the one that seemed most applicable).

    Definition 1:c : an individual cited or appealed to as an expert.

    So i have to agree with Kirk. I appeal to outside sources on the majority of decisions. In fact, i might argue that i look for an "authority" on the subject. But i agree with Kirk further by saying that being a logical, thinking person i look to authoritIES - multiple sources who are well-informed on a particular subject - and then make my decision based upon the information i have gleaned from these sources.

    i believe that certain religions prey upon this desire for external validation - that they, in fact, dictate how our daily lives should be lived. further, they may overrule personal decisions. BUT, i believe that those of us who think (in many cases too much) will take the time to question these imperatives. (which may well lead us to Buddhist practice).

    so, as Jundo and Joko have both (Jundo more directly) stated, what WE (implying the sangha) seek is guidance. we are looking for guidance, sign posts, stick-it notes, or whatever else we might find that helps us solve OUR OWN puzzle, for each of us have a different puzzle (though they may have the same solution).

    Joko - "...when a new teacher comes to town, everyone goes running to see him or her. I'll tell you how far I'd walk to see a new teacher: maybe across the room, no farther!"
    Perhaps i'm a bit too curious sometimes, and perhaps the cat and i will both wind up dead for it, but why be so harsh? i don't mind listening to other points of view and if they're full of rubbish i can ignore them and move on, but perhaps they can provide insight. Incidentally, hasn't someone been stressing the importance of seeing a good teacher on a regular basis?

    Joko - "This is a very radical teaching, not for everyone."
    It's lines like that which make me agree with Kirk regarding the book as a whole, but luckily i've read the majority of the book for pleasure and now am rereading for the sake of discussion.

    If anyone can add insight to Paige's question, i am very curious to know more about it!

    gassho, cd

  6. #6
    Hi Paige & CD,

    The quote you're referring to is indeed in the (Pali) Mahaparinibbana Sutta, although they're not Buddha's very last words.

    "Therefore, ‚nanda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge." ... na-e2.html
    In this version 'island' is used in place of 'lamp', however the German version I consult also refers to the equivalent of 'lamp'. Unfortunately, I can't say what the literal Pali translation would be. Anyway, hope that helps.


  7. #7
    I could not feel more different on this subject. I'm letting Joko in and it feels wonderful. So much encouragement. Sometimes encouragement is the best a fellow Zen traveler can provide. Maybe this book should have been called "Encouraging Words" -- oh! that title is already taken by Robert Aitken. Aitken Roshi is like Joko in that he is a great encourager.
    If we understand that each moment of our life is the teacher, we can't avoid [doing zazen constantly]. If we truly are each moment of our life there is no room for an outside influence or authority. Where could it be? When I am just my own suffering where is the authority? The attention, the experiencing is the authority, and it is also the clarification of the action to be done.
    This is so comforting. If I pay close enough attention to my experience, it (the attention and the experience) will clarify for me the action to be done. No where does Joko say that because there is no outside authority this justifies being willy-nilly in our actions, to do what ever we want. Joko is being kind to us and speaking from the absolute realm. Don't forget the precepts.

    I know that if I have the experience that my co-workers are idiots, this is delusion not authority. If I have the experience of Dominick (a co-worker) as the manifestation of diverse aspects life, this feels true and in that very moment absolutely authoritative. No need to check with anyone else.

  8. #8
    Thank you Kenneth! I've read that sutta a few times, but I guess it never occurred to me to substitute "lamp" for "island." I wonder what the Pali/Sanskrit words are?

    I think that much of the Pali Maha-parinibbana sutta is applicable to the topic of "Authority"

    Now the Blessed One spoke to the Venerable Ananda, saying: "It may be, Ananda, that to some among you the thought will come: 'Ended is the word of the Master; we have a Master no longer.' But it should not, Ananda, be so considered. For that which I have proclaimed and made known as the Dhamma and the Discipline, that shall be your Master when I am gone.

    "But, Ananda, whatever bhikkhu or bhikkhuni, layman or laywoman, abides by the Dhamma, lives uprightly in the Dhamma, walks in the way of the Dhamma, it is by such a one that the Tathagata is respected, venerated, esteemed, worshipped, and honored in the highest degree. Therefore, Ananda, thus should you train yourselves: 'We shall abide by the Dhamma, live uprightly in the Dhamma, walk in the way of the Dhamma.'"

    Then the Venerable Ananda said: "How should we act, Lord, respecting the body of the Tathagata?"

    "Do not hinder yourselves, Ananda, to honor the body of the Tathagata. Rather you should strive, Ananda, and be zealous on your own behalf, for your own good. Unflinchingly, ardently, and resolutely you should apply yourselves to your own good. For there are, Ananda, wise nobles, wise brahmans, and wise householders who are devoted to the Tathagata, and it is they who will render the honor to the body of the Tathagata."
    I think pretty much the main message of the sutta is: "You're big bhikkhus now, you don't need me to wipe your asses for you anymore!"

    Hmm, I'm starting to sound a bit Brad Warner-ish now, I think.

  9. #9


    "There is only one teacher....severe and endlessly kind....the only authority you need to don't have to go to a special place...(in fact) the average office....the average home is perfect"

    Such a radical departure from a zen center with folks in robes, all 'in the know' of how to place shoes, how to place hands, how to bow and when...

    Arriving for the first time at a formal sitting group or a zen center--coming for the first time to a sesshin, I really have felt like the youngest child, looking to the older 'kids' and the adults, watching them to see what they're doing so that I could get it 'right.'
    It is easy to fall into a 'one down' position--everyone else knows so much more...
    (These orchestrated movements serve a different purpose for a more experienced sitter--as a way to check thinking for one (mind is busy attending to mindfulness activities instead of thinking)).

    I love the way she completely dispells such notions (that authority, that answers are to be found outside me, from others) and puts it back on me, just as I am, my life, just like it is.
    And then she deftly pulls the mental rug I'm standing on out from under me--the 'one final little illusion..."I'll be my own authority"'

    It's not outside me, it's not inside ego specific me.
    Life is the teacher, experiencing is the authority.

    I just had to laugh at Paige's summary of the sutra she was quoting as "You're big bhikkhus now..."
    It reminded me of a talk given by Pema Chodron in which she was quoting Trungpa Rimpoche saying there really was only one mantra : OM GROW UP SVAHA!

    PS Kirk:
    Thank you for your comments on the reading, even though you (so far) don't care for it. I think she is real clear so that those who want a different style of teacher will know to go find it elsewhere. I mean, there are a lot of different teachers out there--it's actually a kindness to let folks know upfront what you are about. Also, the 'voice' that comes through an author in how they write and how they are in person is not always the same. (Brad Warner, Jundo's dharma brother, says this about his own writing). It would be so nice if we could hear her in person--well who knows, you might like her even less!!

  10. #10
    I think the term 'authority' can be interpreted in different ways. To me, true authority implies knowledge, capability and competence on a particular subject and in a particlular situation. For example, where I live, some people like to go into the woods and collect mushrooms. However, since I cannot distinguish edible mushrooms from poisonous ones, I would never do this myself, but would have to rely on a knowledgeable person who is Ė in this situation! Ė an authority. This kind of behavior is perfectly rational and I would be a fool to ignore sound advice from an authority on the subject.

    On the other hand, thereís the kind of authority which I think Joko is referring to, when we project exagerrated capabilities into some thing, person, imaginary diety, etc. in the hopes that they will relieve us of our burdens and solve all of our problems if we simply place our trust in them. I think Zen is very uncompromising on this point by saying no 'authority' can help you, youíve got to do it yourself! (The Japanese term for this is 'jiriki' if Iím not mistaken). In his book 'Escape from Freedom', Erich Fromm describes this latter form of authority as an irrational escape mechanism, whereby people put their trust in what he calls a 'magic helper'. Itís more of a psychological viewpoint, but interestingly enough what he describes there is essentially the same as that which Joko is talking about.


  11. #11
    Though I can sympathize with Kirk & CDshrack's initial thoughts, Kenneth has cleared this up for me very succinctly.


  12. #12
    I think she is mistakenly equating "authority", and people's reaction to it, with dependence on authority. This assumption that we are basically all wrong is, in my opinion, negative and presumptuous. While many people may have a dependence on authority figures, many of us don't. In fact, judging from the posts on this forum, most of us seem to be the type that don't.


  13. #13
    I agree with Kirk that the chapter seems a bit unclear. I've been told several times, rather forcefully "Don't do zazen without a teacher." Mostly in exchanges like "Umm, Sensei I was sitting zazen and this strange thing happened?" "Oh, it's fine, don't worry about it. But I want you in regular contact with a teacher, OK?" I've also been directed to certain teachers or temples by other people in the biz.

    I don't think that's the type of "authority" that Joko means though.

    I think it's more saying, "Don't expect to find some super-enlightened being who can give you all the answers. Don't defer all of your decisions to some spiritual guru."

    I seem to always be hearing stories/warnings concerning sex scandals, pseudo-Buddhist cults, dubious and abusive teachers, etc. I don't know if there is a 100% effective way to avoid getting caught up in one of those situations, but probably:

    "[B]e islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge."

    along with the exhortation of the ever-popular Kalama Sutta:

    "Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them."

    is pretty good advice.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by paige
    I think it's more saying, "Don't expect to find some super-enlightened being who can give you all the answers. Don't defer all of your decisions to some spiritual guru."
    It is so sad not to be wanted. I guess I'm out of a job. :-( J

  15. #15


    Hello Jundo:
    You are far from being out of a job. I notice on the forum the sangha numbers are growing and there are new entries in the 'introductions'
    topic listing almost daily. This is quite exciting.
    Here it is, I haven't 'met' you, but I very much am coming to know you through your constant efforts--you certainly are in a position of authority--it is inevitable that it would be so. You created (or oversaw the creation of) this beautiful website with all its endearing features.
    What a wonderful tasty blend of humor and wisdom.
    You monitor what happens on the website, which I very much appreciate.
    The sit-a-long daily talks and sitting are so very 'nothing special'!
    It does, doesn't it-- take an authority to tell you there is no authority!
    So it is very encouraging to my practice to have you as head waiter,
    life guard, ranch foreman, multi-armed, single minded, ring master of ceremonies of the lively and compassionate.
    There is no end of job for you in sight!

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    It is so sad not to be wanted. I guess I'm out of a job. :-( J
    Well, we can keep you on as our 3rd base coach.

  17. #17
    Ok, Guys. Thanks. But if, once in awhile, you could remember to refer to me as "Dear Super-Enlightened Being", I would feel better. I mean, it took me AGES to train my wife and son to start calling me that. ;-)

    Gassho, Jundo the Magnificent

  18. #18
    One of our friends (Zen Master Lin Chi) told us that "If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha. If you meet a Patriarch, kill the Patriarch." Isn't this the same thing Joko is telling us only couched in Western lingo so we'll understand it?

  19. #19
    One of our friends (Zen Master Lin Chi) told us that "If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha. If you meet a Patriarch, kill the Patriarch." Isn't this the same thing Joko is telling us only couched in Western lingo so we'll understand it?
    That's precisely how I read it.

  20. #20
    For what it's worth, I was really turned off by this book at first glance. I was looking to get into Buddhism, and this was just reading like self-help stuff you'd find in the New Age aisle of the bookstore. The lack of Buddhist lingo/parables/name-dropping left me dissatisfied.

    In short, I was unprepared for the book. I went back to my Zen Center and asked if there were any other books they'd recommend. They happily pointed me towards a few more traditional-sounding books (Warm Smiles from Cold Mountains primarily).

    Now, though, I come back to Joko's book and can see the truth of what she's saying clearly. Perhaps I needed to hear it said more exotically first?

    I don't intend to suggest that's the dynamic with anyone else taking issue with the book, just wanted to share my experience in hopes I could help someone.


  21. #21
    i actually enjoy the book (even if i'm more than happy to play devil's advocate every chance i get - gets me in some trouble in my relationships sometimes, too. doesn't it fit somewhere into buddhism to try to look at things from other peoples' potential perspectives?)

    i don't necessarily LOVE the book, but i think Joko has some strong points and that it is probably quite well-worded for a number of people.

    as for intriguing titles, what about _Seven Bamboo Tablets of the Cloudy Satchel_, the Taoist book? that's an eye-catcher.

    anyhow, i just wanted to note that i do enjoy the book and it is much easier to understand what Joko is saying (i agree with you many of you - she does say accept guides, not absolutes, and find it yourself through the "ultimate teacher" of life itself) after having read the rest of the book.


  22. #22
    Great chapter, bloody brilliant stuff here.

    I love the idea of using life as the ultimate teacher. When it all comes down to it there is nothing like reality itself to be our guide --- Although this is nothing ground breaking for any one who as looked at Buddhist teachings, what is really great is how she illustrates the point making these profound truths seem so simple and easy to see.

  23. #23
    The way I see it, Jundo is our coach and we're the players. The coach runs us through drills, exercises, conditioning, strength training, but ultimately, we're the ones who take the field to play the game. We're the final authority at our position when the whistle blows. It's up to us to take what the coach has showed us and make it our own.

    Is anyone else ready for football season?

    Take care,

    p.s. I'm really enjoying this book...

  24. #24
    And just to add one more thing to the analogy above: Playing the game is the best teacher...


  25. #25

    I'm really looking forward to football season. Go Buckeyes!!!

    Great point about how we learn the most by "playing the game". I always found that I learned the most and performed at my best agianst a difficult opponent - - - maybe I can stretch this analogy to say that we grow the most when faced with challenges and unpleasant situations in life.

    My father likes to refer to this as the furnace - - its hot and chaotic, but makes the most opportunity to shape ourselves in a positive way.


  26. #26
    If Jundo's the coach, then how come so many of us are on the bench? :-)


  27. #27

    EVERYBODY gets to play around here. But in this game, there are not two opposing sides, no points, no foul balls and no time clock.

    G, J

  28. #28
    I have read and absorbed everyone else's responses to this section, and I don't have very much to add, besides that I prefer the word "guide" to the idea of "authority," probably due to my own issues, beliefs and notions having to do with that concept.

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