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Thread: Super Powered Magical Monks and Zen Experiences

  1. #1

    Super Powered Magical Monks and Zen Experiences

    I have heard many miraculous tales of buddhist saints and Arhants walking on water or living off of garbage, or crazy enlightenment stories of people who saw through the cosmos to God/the divine/the void. One monk ate pine needles for a year a supposedly turned green. I think these stories if taken literally take away from the beauty and simplicity of zen. What are your thoughts on this? Also if you have an off the wall or interesting miracle story please share. I saw a lot of the enlightenment stories in the 3 pillars of zen (which I read 12 years ago), where satori is taken to interesting mystical levels of description.
    Chris Powers

  2. #2

    Re: Super Powered Magical Monks and Zen Experiences

    But with stories of Buddhist saints and such having visions and all the like, I thing we have to keep in mind that a lot of these stories happen a long long time ago so it is natural that by the time they reach us they are infested with extra goodies. So it becomes hard to tell what is myth and what is fact.

    But, Enlightened is great, mystical and magical, because enlightenment is this very moment, this very life. What can be more mystical and magical then that?

    A lot of those enlightenment stories are interesting, and they do happen, but it is easy to get caught up in all of that. whiling sitting we can start thinking, "will I get it now?, about now?" And even when we have an experience that is profound or not so profound we can become obsessed with it and it misses the mark. Sitting is enlightenment, because sitting and enlightenment are just expression of ourselves; perfect and complete as is.

    Now, a lot of high Tibetan Lamas are known to be able to bring and stop rain by chanting mantras and then blowing on their mala to help people during droughts or when there is too much rain. So there are plenty of these type of stories still going on today. Last time I tried that I was blowing on my damn mala for hours and nothing! Maybe am not enlightened enough :wink:



  3. #3

    Re: Super Powered Magical Monks and Zen Experiences

    Hi Chris,

    Here is one view on these things, from a rather skeptical guy ... who also is a rather mystical guy who believes in miracles all around, miracles in each moment ... in every breath, in the simple sunrise, in every Spring following Winter following Spring. I believe in the AMAZING power to nurse a sick child, surf or ride a vespa ... all time and space nursed/surfing/riding in that place and time. However, I do remain rather skeptical of unsubstantiated claims of psychic powers, levitation, seeing past lives (literally and in detail), visitations from the Spirit World and all the rest ... pending verifiable evidence of any of that.

    In traditional societies, 100 or 1000 years ago (still today for many people), such claims were a fascile way to explain how the world works. Stories of great personages ... saints in Christianity, Buddhas or Bodhisattvas ... would be much enhanced after their deaths ... both Jesus and Buddha said to have walked on water. Simple miracles of their teachings, Wisdom and Compassion ... had to be turned into stories of other kinds of miracles to prove their greatness. So, all religions ... Buddhism no less, Zen stories among them ... are filled with tales of magic and fantastic happenings. (Our present readings in the Book Club of the traditional stories of the Zen Lineage are a good example ... with Zen teachers flying through the air, walking through walls, reading minds ... stories so wondrous that they would put Hollywood screenwriters and special effects designers to shame: viewforum.php?f=2 _ )

    Now, on the other hand ... one may be skeptical about some things as I am about many claims which lack evidence ... but one should not be completely closed minded, and should be respectful. Someday, people in the 23rd century will look back on us and chuckle at many of our quaint beliefs ("Oh, Sally, do you know that folks back in 2011 still believed in gravity!?") :shock:

    Most of the Zen and Buddhist teachers of the past ... Dogen among them, in centuries long ago ... believed in much that we now consider "magic and superstition" as their understanding of why the world was the way it was, why things happened in life. Dreams, soothsaying, spirits ... you name it, all found in Zen Buddhism throughout its history.

    Yet Dogen ... AMAZING for a man of the 13th century ... also had a very modern way to look at such things. He saw, for example, our Practice as TRULY letting us walk through stone walls and mountains (not necessarily physically, but by the experience of Emptyness) ... to travel through time (for time is but a human judgment and measure) ... giving us the ability to read men's minds (for we know the nature of the human mind of all men through this Practice), etc. etc.

    The meaning that Dogen and others gave to "psychic powers" is that we "walk through mountains" for they are empty and so are you and me! We know others minds for they are just Mind, and just the mind of human beings. We can tell the future ... for what "future"? That kind of ways of interpreting "psychic powers". We can expand to cover the entire cosmos ... and shrink to enter into the smallest atom ... for what is "big" and "small", and where in the cosmos are we not all along?

    That kind of view of "psychic powers" I can experience, and is just a matter of seeing and experiencing life in such ways.

    I believe in "REAL MAGIC!" Oh, so many people cannot find the magic and miracle of this reality, right before their eye and this eye itself, because they are so busy searching for cheap "magic" and carnival "miracles"! They seek "powers" as they do not know how to be at one with the power of life. They cannot see all, as they try to "see all". They wish to "predict the future", but do not know right here and now holding future and past and everything in between.

    As Taigen Dan Leighton writes ...

    Buddhist attitude toward such powers has often been ambivalent, particularly in the Zen tradition, which emphasizes attention to ordinary, everyday activity. This outlook was epitomized in the legendary utterance by the great eighth-century Chinese adept, Layman Pang, that the ultimate super- natural power was chopping wood and carrying water. The ordinary world, just as it is, can be appreciated as an amazing, wondrous event. And experiences that seem supernatural and miraculous may only appear so to the limited portions of our mental and spiritual faculties that we conventionally employ.

    So, yes, I am skeptical about claims regarding phenomena about which there is little evidence. Criticize, question, discount or argue against what may be untrue. But do not be closed minded, insulting and too self-sure of your own positions.

    There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

    And see the miracles and magic all around life, and our lives too.

    Here are a couple of old talks on the topic ... ... owers.html ... owers.html

    A saying by St. Jerome ...

    In the sacred is the ordinary,
    In the ordinary is the sacred

    Gassho, Jundo

  4. #4

    Re: Super Powered Magical Monks and Zen Experiences

    Chris, a much more direct and provokative answer, yet very kind and warm ...

    Seiryu speaks my mind...
    Everyday life is the miracle. Fail to see-experience this, and you will need an extra dose of mystical narratives to make up for your extreme blindness.
    Fairy tales are great once you read through and look at the esoteric meaning. The exoteric stuff is just like a very bad holywood movie, kitch, useless and utterly ridiculous.It also drives people crazy, send them to battles, fly planes into towers. Buddhist c..., Christian c..., Muslim crap, same c.... Pardon my French.

    Please, Chris, come back to your senses, open your eyes and start to live your life.



  5. #5

    Re: Super Powered Magical Monks and Zen Experiences

    I'd suspect that a lot of it is advertising. If master x drank lava from an active volcano and master y is a descendant of x, then the "spiritual power" of that line must be rather strong. It's the same as any religious institution, one's ability to "get the joke" is proven by some superhuman or supernatural demonstration.

    Here in the West I think our take on Buddhism, Zen or otherwise, is blended with a (mostly) healthy dose of post-Enlightenment (pun intended) empirical skepticism.

    On to enlightenment. I recall reading a blog post from a strong atheist criticizing Zen. He claimed to sit zazen one morning, had a kensho, and after that he was done with the practice. I have a strong sense that such an experience is available, but it's a natural part of the path rather than the end of the path. Hells, the Buddha's story didn't end with enlightenment why would ours?

  6. #6

    Re: Super Powered Magical Monks and Zen Experiences

    Quote Originally Posted by Rev R
    On to enlightenment. I recall reading a blog post from a strong atheist criticizing Zen. He claimed to sit zazen one morning, had a kensho, and after that he was done with the practice. I have a strong sense that such an experience is available, but it's a natural part of the path rather than the end of the path. Hells, the Buddha's story didn't end with enlightenment why would ours?

    I agree, sometimes the way enlightenment is portrayed is made to seem like an end to our practice. But it is just another beginning of an endless journey back to where we are right now. As what Daido Roshi once said, when you finally reach enlightenment, acknowledge it, let it go, and take another step forward.

    *Deeper Bow*


  7. #7

    Re: Super Powered Magical Monks and Zen Experiences

    Nothing new to add, just my own narrow perspective.

    As I read this thread it made me think of the extremes that I have wrestled with. Either extreme as is usually the case can be damaging, too much myth and magic leads to unrealistic views of reality I think, and you loose accountability for yourself but on the other hand, as I have struggled with having too rigid a view or a strictly skeptic, scientific and rational view of realitly can lead to being jaded and completely loosing yourself in what is the not so soft and cuddly reality we call life, as others said above more elegantly than I can I think it is the simple everyday magic that is important. All the rest is crap.
    I don't belive in all the mystical stuff or superpowers, but I work everyday to see what I have come to belive is the true magic that surrounds me. No grand enligtenment, just trying to glimplse what was there all along.

    The trick..... I had no idea how hard it was going to be to open eyes that were so long blinded by anger and fear, I work everyday through my practice slowly opening the eyes inward, trying to find the real magic that I know is right before my eyes yet so hard to see. It is not an easy thing, at least for me.
    Thank you all for your thoughts, and practice.
    Gassho ~ Dave.

  8. #8

    Re: Super Powered Magical Monks and Zen Experiences

    One of the first Zen stories I've ever read is still my favorite (mind you I'm just paraphrasing it here):

    Two monks from different Buddhism schools were talking one day. The first one said: "my teacher can stand on a river bank and write on the air and kanji will appear on a blank piece of paper on the opposite bank. What miracles do you have in Zen?" The second, who of course is a Zen monk, said: "the miracle is when I'm tired I sleep and when I'm hungry I eat."

    My own miracle story: Last night, or should I say several hours ago (which is technically last night cause it's 3 in the morning) I managed not to blow up and lash out at my classmates and family despite my grad school stress. And now I'm typing this as my wife and child sleep. Not blowing up, typing, sleeping - all miraculous. 8)

  9. #9

    Re: Super Powered Magical Monks and Zen Experiences

    I think I may have been misunderstood. I agree that being in the present moment is miraculous especially in our modern day lives. To be fully present while eating an orange can be enlightenment if I may be so bold to use the word. I guess what I was trying to get at were the over the top stories that seem so prevalent in buddhism here in the west. Many teachers have told these to students as literal tales when they are metaphorical. I am open to change and keep an open mind as I must as a psychologist and scientist. I just think some of these tales when taken literally do damage to the pragmatism of the dharma. This was not meant to offend or challenge anyones beliefs but to see if others had experienced this type of mythos and their opinions on its worth.

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