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Thread: Pali Zen

  1. #1

    Pali Zen

    Hello friends,

    As you may recall, I'm digging through the Pali Canon, trying to find "proto-Zen," trying to trace the development of Zen from Siddhartha Gotoma on. While I agree with Jundo that it's "all there" when you read the Canon, I think that it's interesting to see how all of the explicit statments, implications, and sidelong glances at Shikantaza fit into the greater history of Buddhism. One of the more promising leads I've found is in the Maha-Rahulovada Sutta. Among other techniques that the Buddha teaches Rahula is this:

    "Rahula, develop the meditation in tune with earth. For when you are developing the meditation in tune with earth, agreeable & disagreeable sensory impressions that have arisen will not stay in charge of your mind. Just as when people throw what is clean or unclean on the earth feces, urine, saliva, pus, or blood the earth is not horrified, humiliated, or disgusted by it; in the same way, when you are developing the meditation in tune with earth, agreeable & disagreeable sensory impressions that have arisen will not stay in charge of your mind.

    Bhikkhu, Thanissaro. "Maha-Rahulovada Sutta." Access to Insight. N.p., 2006. Web. 9 Dec 2010. .
    I'd love to hear your thoughts and commentary!



  2. #2

    Re: Pali Zen

    There is a lot here and, to be fair, I'm really poor at really getting sutras. Some of it reminds of the beginning of The Faith In Mind Sutra to avoid picking and choosing.

    For example:

    Just as when wind blows what is clean or unclean feces, urine, saliva, pus, or blood it is not horrified, humiliated, or disgusted by it; in the same way, when you are developing the meditation in tune with wind, agreeable & disagreeable sensory impressions that have arisen will not stay in charge of your mind.
    It seems similar to the idea of just letting the clouds pass by in Shikantaza. Realizing that which we hold onto, our desires and storylines, is not who we really are. Those things that we think make us who we are are just incidental.

    Rahula, any form whatsoever that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: every form is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: 'This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.
    That's like with Shikantaza... I get so caught up in thoughts during Shikantaza, then they release and I'm back to the posture and breathing, back from being caught in some chemical reaction in my brain to actually perceiving what's really happening. It repeats over and over. It lessens sometimes, but those thoughts still come back. Those likes and dislikes, who am I without them? I don't know, but those seem to be a product or habitual response I've learned.

  3. #3

    Re: Pali Zen


    I might propose that looking for the source of Zen Practice in the early traditions is very much like seeing Henry Ford's Model-T (and the gallop of wild horses) in the horsepower of a modern Prius, or the Wright Brothers (not to mention the wings of birds) in a 777. There but not there.

    Actually, my examples above are perhaps not so good, as they imply that the later tradition is "better and more advanced" than the earlier practices. Although I do feel that Buddhism, after it came to be the Mahayana of China and Japan, did work out some 'kinks' and changed the recipe of the earlier formulations in some positive ways (and some perhaps not so good ways too) ... let's just say that what came was not "better", but simply new flavors cooked up from the same ingredients, appropriate to different times and cultures ... much as Indians might eat curry, Chinese might boil dumplings, Japanese fry up tempura, and all are YUMMY! And in the modern west, we can enjoy the best of all those fine dishes.

    I do think that it is a misunderstanding to think that the historical Buddha, 2500 years ago in India, was the one who got it "right" while everyone after is just a shadow of that, or that we need to "get back" to the original formulation. Instead, I do see him more as the "founder", as Henry Ford, who had the genius of original insight. I would hesitate to call "Theravadan" Buddhism, ancient or modern, more "Basic" or "Original" Buddhism than the Mahayana teachings. One reason is merely that all of us, including modern Theravada, are 2500 years "down the road" from old Gautama Buddha. Though many folks have an image of modern "Theravadan" Buddhism (as now found in South Asia) as being "original", the truth is that it is also the product of centuries of evolution and doctrinal developments. Things do evolve and develop as the world changes and evolves, even "timeless" wisdom. I often write this when that subject comes up ...

    [O]ne thing for folks to remember is that Buddhism did change and evolve over many centuries, as it passed from culture to culture in Asia. The Buddha lived 2500 years ago in ancient India, whereupon the philosophy passed to China 1000 years later, and then to someone like Master Dogen who lived about 1000 years after that in medieval Japan. You and I live in the strange world known as the 21st century. Certainly, some changes arose along the way in some important interpretations and outer forms. For example, the Chinese made Zen Practice very Chinese, the Japanese very medieval Japanese, and now we are making it very Western.

    However, the Heart of the Buddha's teachings ... the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, Non-Self, Non-Attachment, the Middle Way, etc. etc., ... All are here now as much as there then!!


    On the one hand some outer stuff is, well, changed. For example, when Buddhism came to China it was heavily influenced by, and pretty much merged with, Taoism (not to mention that it was already "Mahayana Buddhism" by that time, a very different flavor from the original). The result was this little thing we now call "Zen Buddhism". So, congratulations, we are already "Taoists" and "Mahayana Buddhists" ... not just "Buddhists". When it got to Japan, the Japanese added Japanese culture to it. In the West, we are now making some very good changes (although we have to, of course, try to avoid bad changes). These good changes include equality of the sexes and a greater emphasis on lay practice.

    But it is still Buddhism. What Dogen taught was Buddhism. What we do around Treeleaf (I do believe) is as Buddhism as Buddhism can be.

    I will even go so far as to say (and this is the kind of statement that has gotten me into all kinds of trouble on with some folks in Buddhism's own fundamentalist quarters) that maybe, just maybe, later Buddhism actually made some big and important "improvements" to the Buddha's original formulation with all those additions, and a couple of thousand years of working out the kinks and bugs. It is much like saying that Buddha was Henry Ford, who first thought up the brilliant idea of sticking 4 wheels on an internal combustion engine, but now we can drive a Prius! I even say that maybe, just maybe, the Buddha was not infallible on every darn thing. Not on the vital heart of the teachings, mind you. But while he was 90% right in his proposals, he maybe also had some klunkers and narrow ideas here and there (as fits a man who lived in a traditional, myth based society some 2500 years ago in ancient India) ... like the whole thing about an overly mechanical view of rebirth, the place of women, the need to abandon the world and family in order to Practice and to repress or extinquish (as opposed to moderate & balance & pierce) the desires and emotions. ...

    Dogen was different from Shakyamuni Buddha, who are both different from all of us.

    But when we are sitting a moment of Zazen ... perfectly whole, just complete unto itself, without borders and duration, not long or short, nothing to add or take away, containing all moments and no moments in "this one moment" ... piercing Dukkha, attaining non-self, non-attached ... then there is not the slightest gap between each of us and the Buddha.
    Although Dogen and so many Mahayana teachers could be very critical of aspects of the earlier Indian tradition (which they would often call by the term Hinayana, the small/lesser vehicle ... not 'PC' now to use that term), they also all recognized the Lotus Sutra's message of "One Vehicle" and "Expedient Means" ... whereby the Buddha presented different, sometimes seemingly contradictory teachings, to different people having different spiritual needs. Let us leave it at that. In fact, that may sweep in even the current discussion on the other thread about Christianity and such. 8)

    Gassho, J

  4. #4

    Re: Pali Zen

    I've been thinking about this recently. I respect Shakyamuni Buddha obviously for the teachings and practice he started and shared. However, he was also a human being, like you and me, right? If we start adding things to him, via speculation and/or our need for a perfect (whatever that idea is in our head) model to follow I think we get into a lot of trouble.

    Shakyamuni was human, not God, and he likely had all of the baggage that comes with being human as well. We are in a way what we believe we are (which is a product of our conditioning and genetics) and, as a result, our beliefs are also products of our experience. The interesting thing is that we have consciousness that allows us to expose those feelings and beliefs and not necessarily become a habitual puppet of them. I guess these are my beliefs.

    In any case, going back to the point that Shakyamuni was a human. I don't buy for an instant that he was perfect. I don't care if he said the cosmos was eternal or we didn't really die. He was a human being. How the hell would he have known? And to that point, since he was human and a product of the culture and the times, of course things would have to be tweaked.

    Again, if we start attributing perfection to Shakyamuni I think it jeopardizes our practice.



    Edit: By we, I mean me; in my experience, I turn a lot of people I look up to into hagiographic images of who they are. I've done this repeatedly throughout my life, and I have to say zazen has really helped me to face that and start to understand myself as not below or above others in that sense.

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