Friday, April 30, 2010

Zen and Demons

Welcome to today’s runaway train of thought. Today, as Mel would say “I intend to misbehave”.

Words are like a vapor and meaning like the odor of that vapor. What subtle aroma shall we find in anything that is written or said?

“When you have advanced to a certain level in your cultivation, the demons will come to test you out, to see if you have any skill. The more you’re polished, the brighter you become; The brighter you get, the more you must be polished. You’ll be polished until you’re like the autumn moon, illumining all the demon hordes from space. When the demon hordes are scattered, the original Buddha manifests. Cultivators should not fear demons. Demons just come to test you to see if you have spiritual skill. Right now there are many demons coming to test all of you: heavenly demons, earthly demons, human demons, ghostly demons, and demons of sickness. They are testing you to see if you are genuine or phony. If you are phony, the demons will leave you alone. If you are genuine, the demons will be subdued and will also leave you alone. It’s only to be feared that you are partly genuine and partly phony. Then the demons will advance some and retreat some. They will get close to you, then draw away from you, then get close again, always hanging around you. Though they hang around, you need not be afraid. You can either become more genuine, or become more phony.”
                                        Buddha, The Flower Adornment Sutra

Mara, a Buddhist Asura, Asuras are Vedic demons by the way, came to stop Buddha from becoming enlightened. Why, well as a demon he just seems to be that kind of guy. After all the Buddhist Asura lived in the 33rd heaven atop mount Sumeru, the Buddhist Mount Olympus, they all Got raging drunk one night and everyone to a man was kicked off the mountain by Sakra, the Buddhist Zeus, and now are forced to live in the foothills of heaven. So Mara, not quite Satan but certainly a real prankster had an attitude about letting someone become enlightened. We all have our demons, our own personal Mara come to call. I love the idea of, become advanced and they will leave you alone, Become a phony and the will leave you alone. But waiver, try and preserve your select and favorite delusions and they will bang on the walls all night long.

“I have taught you the method of correct cultivation but you still do not know the subtle states of Mara which appear when you practice meditation When they manifest, if you fail to distinguish them and if your minds are not in a right state, you will fall into the evil ways of either the demons or your five aggregates, of the heavenly Mara’s, of ghosts and spirits, or of mischievous sprites, If you are not, clear about them, you will mistake thieves for your own sons.”
                                             Buddha, The Shurangama Sutra
      Long ago I was seeing demons when I would meditate, my teacher at the time told me to just laugh at them and they would run away. I did and they did.

      This samsara, this realm in which ordinary folks like you and me are said to wander through the countless cycles of Life & Death, bouncing between the lowest hell (Avici - the unrelenting Hell) to the highest heaven (Akanistha - the ultimate peak of Heaven) is a place of mist and shadow, and demons lurk in those dark places. But look closer and its just the threads in the carpet or the peeling paint on the wall.  All these worlds are mind, and all the demons conjured by the landlord, yourself.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Soto Zen and Morality

     As I observed before morality in Mahayana Buddhism is based upon the bodhisattva ideal. This ideal is a concern for others usually called compassion. This morality is seen as the foundation of all Buddhist practice. In traditional Buddhism this is accomplished by training the mind from falling into selfishness and reframing from deeds and words that will cause harm to others. .
    We see this part of the training of morality in Soto Zen as we Chant the “Shigu Seigan” (Fourfold Great Vow) at almost every gathering. We vow “to liberate sentient beings, however innumerable” and to eliminate our own mental afflictions. We chant the Heart Sutra and call upon the “great compassionate Boddhisattva” Avalokitesvara.
   Writers like D.T. Suzuki seem believe that this great compassion is accomplished in Zen by the realization of emptiness and the intuitive wisdom obtained in Zazen: That the realization of your true nature, your “Buddha Nature” would provide it without any other effort. It should be noted that D.T. Suzuki never once wrote about Dogen or his Shobogenzo.
    Passed down from Dogen himself, Soto Zen practitioners take sixteen vows or precepts based upon this morality of compassion.

The Three Refuges
I take refuge in the Buddha;
I take refuge in the Dharma;
I take refuge in the Sangha.

(In these first three we are making a volitional vow to stop taking refuge in sex, booze and the love of money etc. etc.)

The Three Pure Precepts
Cease from evil;
Do only good;
Do good for others.

(In these three precepts we have the basis of all our aspirations and hope to be moral creatures)

The next ten are:
Do not kill.
Do not steal.
Do not covet.
Do not say that which is untrue.
Do not sell the wine of delusion.
Do not speak against others.
Do not be proud of yourself and devalue others.
Do not be mean in giving either Dharma or wealth.
Do not be angry.
Do not defame the Three Treasures.

       In his writing “Jukai” (Receiving the Precepts) in the Shobogenzo Dogen says:
“Unless we accept the Precepts, we are not yet a disciple of the Buddha’s, nor are we an offspring of our Ancestral Masters, because they have considered one’s departing from error and resisting wrong to be synonymous with practicing meditation and inquiring of the Way. The words, “They have made the Precepts foremost,” are already precisely what the Treasure House of the Eye of the True Teaching is. Realizing Buddhahood and becoming an Ancestor have Invariably been based on receiving and preserving the Transmission of the Treasure House of the Eye of the True Teaching.
      Ancestral Masters who have authentically transmitted the Treasure House of the Eye of the True Teaching have invariably received and preserved the Buddha’s Precepts. There cannot be an Ancestor of the Buddha who has not received and preserved the Precepts. There are those who received and preserved them in compliance with the Tathagata, and there are those who received and preserved them in compliance with a disciple of the Buddha, all of whom received the bloodline thereby.”
      When Dogen started the Temple he named Eiheiji there was a group of monks from the then discredited Bodhidharma School or Daruma Shu he invited to join him there. The Daruma Shu had been driven out of the Buddhist community in Japan because they ascribed to a kind of Buddhist Antinomianism. They believed they were under no obligation to obey the laws of ethics or morality given forth by the Buddha. They held that since they had Buddha nature anything they did was true to that nature. They taught that the Buddha’s teaching “All evil reframe from doing, All Good reverently perform” actually meant that all evil has been refrained from and therefore all activities are Buddhism.”
       When they came to Eiheiji Dogen attempted to teach them and correct this thinking among these new members of his temple. But a group of these Darmu Shu led by a monk named Genmyo insisted on his belief that Zen Morals meant he could do no wrong and that he was bound by no morality.
        Dogen expelled Genmyo and his followers from Eiheiji and had the mediation platform Genmyo used ripped out of the monk’s hall and burned.
       Throughout the Shobogenzo Dogen is constantly saying, “investigate that!” at the end of a phrase.
I am going to make the suggestion that perhaps if you sat out of compassion for others and not to gain something for yourself your motivation to practice, your will to proceed, might improve. That Soto Zen has a long established history and tradition of having morality at its base.

“Investigate That!”

Zen Morality - Who are you kidding?

Zen as it has been popularly portrayed in the west for the last 30 years might be listed in Webster’s as a synonym for Ambiguity. We love ambiguity. In Fact we thrive upon it. Popular teachers and popular culture has established a stereotype of Zen as an “anything goes” philosophy. And what is more ambiguous than the word Morality.

Even Philosophers have struggled to distinguish between morality and etiquette, law, and religion. It’s just not polite to reach over and grab a bite off the plate of the person next to you but is it immoral? Spitting on the big guy in line of front of you may not be immoral but reframing from doing so may save you a severe lesson in manners. It isn’t really immoral to run a red light but the law will make you pay a fine. But if you break into a house and steal a big screen TV it is probably both immoral and against the law. In religion we have morality usually in the form of a set of rules like the law but it’s usually God who will punish your transgressions and God who has made the rules he is imposing upon you.

In Buddhism the underlying principle of Mahayana Buddhist morality is to help others or at least to reframe from harming other sentient beings. The word most used to describe this morality is compassion. In most Mahayana schools of Buddhism you are taught that this morality, this great compassion, is the foundation of everything else you will do as a Buddhist. This compassion you are taught is what drove the Buddha to turn the wheel of the dharma. This great compassion is the reason why they believe in the Bodhisattva ideal.

Now we come to Zen. In the west people have heard of Zen and often don’t even know it is a form of Buddhism. But in modern western Zen we seem to have little practice or even discussion of Morality. Teachers believe that no one wants to be preached to about being moral. Many people who come to the Zendo don’t see Zen as a religion and they see morality as “religious stuff”. They want to be less stressed out and want to be more relaxed. Others want to become enlightened or liberated nursing a preconceived idea of how the whole world will become warm and fuzzy when they “see the light”.

There are of course two ways to look at Zen morality. You can take the high road espoused by Zen scholars like D.T. Suzuki and look at the “Mystical Zen” as an ideal. Like Suzuki you can talk about what Zen” is and means. Then there is the “Historical Approach” in which you examine what Zen practitioners have done over the years. You can discuss the “morality” of samara cutting off heads and committing suicide. We could discuss those Japanese Zen masters that supported wars and talked about compassionate killing.

But, who are you kidding? The ability to know right from wrong is innate in you. No one knows the huge amount of room to move within the ambiguous word or phrase more than a lawyer we make our living off of it. And no one knows more about spiritual ambiguity than a Zen practitioner. As a Lawyer who practices Zen I make claim to being an expert in ambiguity.

I am going to write another Blog entry on Soto Zen and morality that will follow this one.

But as you close the door and slip into bed with your neighbor’s wife, don’t stop to blow smoke up your own ass. Who are you kidding?

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Mind of Resentment

Shenhui said to his master Huineng, “Master when you meditate do you see or not?”

Huineng, then responded by striking Shenhui three times on the head with his wisp.

“When I hit you does it hurt or not?” said Huineng.

“It hurts and yet it doesn’t,” said Shenhui.

“I see and yet I don’t”’ said Huineng.

“How do you see and not see at the same time,” said Shenhui.

“What I see are my own failings, and what I don’t see are other people’s right and wrong, good or bad. As for you, if it doesn’t hurt, you have no feeling, like wood or stone. If it dose hurt you have a mind of resentment, just like the common people,” Huineng said. Seeing and not seeing are the simultaneous holding of two positions, feeling and not feeling pain belong to the realm of generation and extinction.

Shenhui felt embarrassed and bowed to his master.

   The master strikes us every day, in words deeds and in the darkness of our minds.. the entire universe is waiting for us to see and not see. Closing your eyes is of little help.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Zenji - A Mountain Walking

It might be a fair statement that Buddhism and Zen were born in the mountains of the earth.  

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

All sounds are the voice of Buddha

There is a freedom to being unenlightened. You can hide among the habitually ignorant and never be seen. Confucius said " I wish I could remain silent, but how can I say nothing?" Its simple Confucius old boy just sit down and be quite.

Zen holds no dogma it has no set philosophy or prescribed musts. Those who try and give it one always are teaching donkeys who are following an ass up the hill. We dip into the surrounding state of things and teach with sticks and rocks lying about on the ground. The trick of course is to let nothing stick to you when the dung hits the fan, which is of course the nature of the world.
I don't know why I am writing these things, I suppose like Confucius I haven't learned to sit down and shut up yet. But whatever you may think please don't think I am teaching Zen. I am simply experiencing it and coughing in your face. If it is true that all sounds are the voice of Buddha I suppose this hacking cough has its place in the symphony.


Dogen said that when he came back from China he felt a need to help free the countless sentient beings, that it was a great weight upon his shoulders. Avalokkitesvara's head exploded just trying to think about doing this. I suppose we had better get started then, has anyone seen my orginal face lying around here . I am positive I had it when I walked in here?

There was a time ....

There was a time when I was a warrior. A time when I lived like a flame that burned the earth. My father was a professional soldier and he raised me to be as he was taught and as he had lived. There was a time when I saw the dust rise from the Captain's chest, as a bullet ended him then and there and I saw the dust like moats in a sun beam sparkling like stars.
There was a time when I looked at an acorn and it seemed to me I could see all the oak trees that it had always been and would forever be.
" There have also been those who awakened the mind in dreams and attained enlightenment, those who awakened the mind in the midst of intoxication and attained enlightenment, those who awakened the mind and attained enlightenment from flying flowers and falling leaves, those who awakened the mind and attained enlightenment from peach blossoms and green bamboo, those who awakened the mind and attained enlightenment in heaven and those who awakened the mind and attained enlightenment in the ocean."
Dogen from "Awakening the Unsurpassed Mind".
What refuge is there from Ghosts and Demons. I write this in the midst of a haunting in a time when I would be better served by silence.
A monk asked Tosu, "Is there a dragon howl in a dead tree?"
Tosu said " I say there's a lion roar in a skull."
A monk also asked Sozan "What is a dragon howl in a dead tree?"
Sozan said "The blood line is not ended"
The monk asked, "What are eyes in a skull?"
Sozan said " Not entirely dry."
The monk asked "Does anyone hear?"
Sozan said, There is no one in the world who does not hear."
The monk asked, "What writing does the expression "Dragon Howl" come from?"
Sozan said, "I don"t know what writing the expression comes from, but those who hear it all die."
Perhaps it's just that simple, that Buddha's don't know they are Buddha's and there was a time when as Dogen says:
"Now the dragon howling of Kyogen, , Sekiso and Sozan make clouds and water."
But not today, not for me.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Painting of a Rice Cake

"An Ancient Buddha said, " A painting of a rice-cake does not satisfy hunger".


"When they transmit their teaching, they say, "This statement means that studying the sutras and commentaries dose not nourish true wisdom." Or they suppose it means that to study the sutras of the Three Vehicles or the One vehicle is not the way of perfect enlightenment. To think this statement means that expedient teachings are useless is a great mistake."

Dogen -- from Painting of a Rice-cake" ----- "Moon in a Dew Drop"

"The Buddha way cannot be attained unless you practice, and without study it remains remote."

"To study with the mind means to study with the various aspects of the mind, such as consciousness, emotion and intellect."

Dogen --- from "Body and Mind Study of the Way" -- "Moon in a dew Drop"

Take that you ugly sacks of mostly water who say that you need not study and want to be spoon feed all the teachings...

Sorry its been that kind of day, month year...

Or as a sock puppet once said, "Read a Book!"

Sunday, April 4, 2010

What are you saying?

The Zen Master Munan had only one successor. His name was Shoju. When Munan was getting old he called Shoju in to see him.
"Shoju, "he said, "I am getting old and as far as I know , Shoju, you are the only one who will cary on this teaching. Here is a book, this book was handed to me by my teacher, to him from his teacher for seven generations. I also have added many points according to my understanding. You will succeed me, and I am now passing the book to you."
Shoju declined to accept the book. "I have received your teaching without writing and am satisfied. I have no need for the book. Perhaps you should keep it."
"Even so," said Munan "you should take the book as a symbol of my teaching, this has been so for seven generations." And he passed the book to Shju.
Shoju threw it into the fire.
"What are you doing!" Shouted Munan.
"What are you saying!" Shouted Shoju back.
Koan from "Zen Flesh and Zen Bones"
Dogen says the rocks and the mountains teach the Dharma, did that book burn?

Zen -What's in it for me?

It is so amazing that humans want to be more than they are. We have crossed the sea's and touched the stars and yet we all seem to want to be more than we are. We are seldom content with being as we perceive ourselves to be. Don't seek enlightenment, let it seek you, but never is this less true than when we first start to wonder what we could be.

It is said that one day while entering a small village someone asked the Buddha if he was a god or a saint, it is said he simply laughed and said no. Well they demanded, "what are you"?
" I", replied the Buddha am simply "awake".

It would seem to be so little to ask, so minor a thing to accomplish this just being awake. How hard could it be? Not to ask for powers or wealth or to be able to heal the sick or raise the dead, but to simply be awake, to be able to really see the world and ourselves as we truly are seems so doable. But here we are almost three thousand years into the quest and so few, so very precious few have managed to wake up.

It is one of the most startling revelations of Zen that just siting is so dam hard. We sit and it hurts. We sit and we are board. We sit and then we stand and then we sit again. Sometimes we see things in the walls and the floor and other times we can only hear our heart beating like a great clock slowly going around and around and we ride it in great circles going nowhere, or so it seems. Of course we ask ourselves why we bother, it is so frustrating and so confusing that to just sit down and be still takes so much effort and so much will power. Somehow it doesn't seem fair and it doesn't make sense that such a simple and natural act as sitting is so dam hard.

Who would have thought that one of the evolutionary efforts towards the progress of man would be learning to just shut up and sit down? I wonder if a million million years ago some half fish like beast lay gasping for air on a beach his brain fogged by hypoxia as he struggled to find a way to live out of water , saying to himself, "what's in it for me?"