Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Hollywood Zen

" He who speaks does not know, he who knows does not speak " Jackie Chan (Forbidden Kingdom)

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving and Gratitude and Zen Buddhists , when the world really sucks.

    I’m writing this on Thanksgiving 2016,  it’s not been a particularly good Thanksgiving for me:  I won’t bother you with the details.     All  of which has inspired me to write this essay.

                 Many years ago I was attending a teaching by very old Tibetan monk.  The subject of the teaching was the "great compassion"  this is the  compassion that Buddha  had and which he taught.  I asked the teacher about compassion without a subject, what I mistakenly called objectless compassion.  This idea of  compassionate for everyone in general and no one particular was giving me a head ache . I had studied very hard and had found selfless compassion the compassion that includes everyone and everything a difficult concept. As it turned out when I finally got the translator to tell the teacher what I was asking him,  he very firmly told me that all compassion should have a subject or object .  That developing the idea of compassion for everyone and everything requires cultivation of a state of mind and it requires work.  Compassion is I think probably the most taught subject at the moment in modern Buddhism. But today I would like to discuss gratitude, I guess I’ll call it the great gratitude or simply selfless gratitude.

            My old  Tibetan  teachers  talked about this  ancient teacher or that ancient teacher as having discovered a Buddhist teaching like it had been lying under a rock somewhere and they were looking around and just happen to pick up the right rock.  I’ve never been particularly fond of that idea.  I think that one  today has to  say that Buddha had “invented” Buddhism to solve what he saw as the major problems with life and probably the major problem with life from day one is that it often sucks.  His first observation seems to be that  we swim in an ocean of Dukkha, which is often translated into English as suffering. Of course with every idea and concept in Buddhism there are 1000 people who have a different definition for it when it’s translated into a new language like English.

        When I was studying with  my Tibetan teachers I learned that Tibetan Buddhism and their teachers really {really} liked to list and number everything.  I have attended teachings that lasted three hours as the teacher listed and numbered all the different kinds of suffering including the suffering of suffering so this is a deep well in which I don’t intend to step at the moment. For the purpose of this essay let us just say that life often sucks.  I think that pretty much covers just about anything in the concept of Dukkha.

        So we Americans have been brought up with this holiday called Thanksgiving if you lived in America during your lifetime as a child  I don’t see how you could have not run into this holiday. Thanksgiving basically translates into gratitude. People can and often do sit down and list all the things for which they are grateful. Then the question comes up who are they grateful too? Of course Christians and Muslims and Jews and many other religions have no problem with this question because they are grateful to their God.

       With people being as well informed as they are today it is very often very hard for modern people even Christians to look around and see this world of suffering and to see the things they have lost and the people they have lost and still feel a sense of gratitude to the all seeing all-knowing godfather in the sky. As you turn on your TV and watch the news and see all the wars the killing both in the war and down the street from you it is sometimes very hard to keep up that state of mind that there is this really a nice guy running the joint.

      But Buddhist for the most part do not have the same concept of a God that the other religions do.  As I stated in a previous essay I don’t believe Buddha ever actually said there was no God. What I believe he said  was that  you shouldn’t become attached to your idea of what God and who God is . I admit that’s just my opinion from reading what he said.

             So let’s get back to the point!  Here we are Buddhist, it’s Thanksgiving, at the moment at least our life sucks,  and we don’t really have some big white-haired bearded guy up in the sky that we layoff all our problems on, the one most people call God.  But good things do happen to us and bad things do happen to us. So how can we celebrate Thanksgiving with a real sense of gratitude.  Will that’s where selfless gratitude in my opinion comes in, just as we don’t really need a single individual or even a group of individuals in a particular group to feel compassion  we really don’t need this singular entity to feel gratitude for.

             One of the problems with Zen in America is I believe a failure of our teachers in Zen to teach the idea of cultivating states of mind.  Almost every other school practices cultivating states of mind like compassion and gratitude , but mostly we just sit.   We don’t usually have long list of enumerated obstructive emotions followed by a matching list of antidotal states of mind . Nevertheless many  Zen groups today do teach Metta, the mantras and chants of which are actually meant to help cultivate a state of mind.

      So developing selfless gratitude is not really that far for a  Zen student to stretch.  The trick that the Tibetans learned long ago is that no matter how bad off you are you going to be able to come up with a list of things that you are grateful for, and in the very least a list of thing you can realistically imagine your grateful haven’t happened to you.

            I’m going to make an assumption here that as Zen Buddhist you are at least basically familiar with the eightfold path which includes right view, right aspiration, right speech ,right action, right livelihood, right effort right mindfulness, and  right concentration. If you have even looked at these ideas , even if your teacher never gives you any straight answers to your questions about them, you should be able to find the eightfold path and figure out fairly quickly that Buddhism involves the cultivation of your mind and your attitudes.  So I think I’m on fairly solid ground in suggesting that while you’re sitting  and no one’s looking over your shoulder and into your mind you might actually try and see if you can develop the state of mind of gratitude without the list of things to be grateful for and the one big enchilada that you’re supposed to be grateful too. 

      This usually takes 20 years of training or so I have been told,  but I’m going to suggest to you that if you just give it a shot you will find out that it really doesn’t take very long to be able to develop within yourself a feeling of expansive compassion and expansive gratitude, this might also be called selfless compassion and selfless gratitude or the great compassion and the great gratitude.  You might even want to call it objectless compassion and gratitude but when I tried that my Tibetan teacher, slapped me in the head and told me that we always had to have an object for our compassion and our gratitude. Well bugger, just  remember they are  just words folks.  You have to have some place to start
            I’ve often heard it said that you cannot control your emotions or that some people cannot control their emotions or that you can’t help how you feel , ad nausea.   But Buddhist training has for centuries been based upon the idea that you can train your mind and that mind  includes your emotional structure.  Buddhist teachers saw that you can cultivate states of mind like compassion and gratitude through practice and perhaps a little direction from a teacher.  I also know that in a Zendo setting any time you slap more than four words together or words that have more than six syllables there will be  somebody who wants to argue with you, someone who doesn’t like the definitions you used, and someone who is so proud of not knowing anything that they just have to inflict that  upon you.

       So if you get that kind of reaction where you’re taking your Zen meditation and teachings don’t let it bother you.  Don’t give up your teacher or your meditation group just try this out at home when you are alone and give yourself a chance to grow.

            And if you get too much static about thinking during Zen practice just look whoever is giving you the static in the eye, raise one eyebrow and say “ I have the great doubt”. That should keep them busy long enough for you to get out of the room.  So as long as your breathing be grateful.

                                   Have a happy Thanksgiving

Monday, September 26, 2016

No God? Or no attachment to your idea of God?

              In 30 years I have never found an ancient Buddhist Sutra quoting the Buddha saying  there was no God, in fact many have him interactive with the God's of India.  But without a doubt he taught non attachment. How much evil has been done in the name of this or that person's idea of God. Clearly if he taught on God it was to abandon one's idea of God.  Let God be God, give God no name, no culture, no nationality.  Lose your attachment to what you would have God be.  Once you think you know God you then resent others with a different idea of God.  You soon think you even know the mind of God.  Only Evil seems to follow.
    The Buddha's teachings in both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism are for all intents and purpose essentially atheistic, although neither deny the existence of beings that might be called "gods."  In point of fact the Buddha himself rejected metaphysical speculation as a matter of principle, and his teachings focused entirely on the practical ways to end suffering.  Many people have interpreted his teaching on non-attachment as atheism. And many have ignored Buddha's  first sermon where he plainly says his teaching's purpose is to mitigate the heritage of human sorrow. They have chosen to believe he was teaching a path to something they called "enlightenment"  in English.  How much suffering has been both endured and inflicted in the name of this so called enlightenment no man can tell.
        On the other hand, the Buddha did not explicitly rule out the existence of a God or gods.  As Buddhism filtered through many cultures and countries it picked up many hitchhikers.  In both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism the local God's and spirits attached themselves to Buddha. The Hindu god's and deities traveled along for the ride.  In Burma the "Nat" hitched a ride. Among the most popular Buddhist deities in the east  are Kuan Yin, the Medicine Buddha, the Laughing Buddha and the Green and White Taras. As local Buddhist wrote their own sutra's classifications arose for the various Avatars of Buddhist Ideals. there are  Buddha's Gautama Buddha (Shakyamuni) Laughing Buddha/Future Buddha (Maitreya) Medicine Buddha/Healing Buddha Five Dhyani Buddhas Dipamkara (Kasyapa) Buddha. The newer Mahayana Buddhist added the Bodhisattvas Five Bodhisattvas of Compassion Tara Kuan Yin etc. In  Theravada Buddhism you have your
Arhats which spread to Mahayana , at least  16 Sravakas (Tibetan) 18 Lohans (Chinese) . In China just a few of the Chinese Buddhist Deities are Kuan-Yin Jade Maiden Golden Youth Kuan-Ti (Sangharama) Wei-To (Skanda) Four Guardian Kings (Si-Ta-Tien-Wang) . In Tibet the Tibetan Wrathful Deities Yama Mahakala Yamantaka Kubera Hayagriva Palden Lhamo Tshangs pa Begtse Nagas Lha-mo all jumped  aboard for the ride.
   Since this blog is about Zen, the Japanese form of Chan we can't leave out their extensive hierarchy of hangers on. Leading the list of course are the Buddhas, followed in order by the numerous Bodhisattvas, the Wisdom Kings, the Deities, the "Circumstancial appearances" and lastly the patriarchs  and eminent religious people Ad infinitum.

  The actual existence of any of these Spirits, Deities, Gods and Avatars is something I will leave to the reader to decide. I would note that they are often useful tools to mentally crystalize an idea or concept in the teachings. Like the parable of the raft, they are probably best left on the bank once the river is crossed.



Monday, August 15, 2016

Is there such a thing as a Buddhist Priest?

     A few days ago I read an interesting post on Facebook written by a Zen practitioner about a young man who was, according to the writer, studying to become a Buddhist Priest in one of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism.  This amazed me since I had practiced Tibetan Buddhism for years and had never read or heard of any Tibetan school having priests.
   As far as I know the only schools of Buddhism that have people who claim the title of priest are those schools that have come to America from Japan.  All other schools as far as I know ordain only monks.  Generally speaking monks and nuns  are a member of a religious order ordained by other monks and receive religious training in the beliefs of their order. Usually being a monk requires taking vows of poverty, chastity and renunciation. 
    A priest on the other hand is trained in his schools beliefs and  rituals.  His or her ordination conveys the right of the priest to perform those rituals and  usually to preach his religious beliefs to the public. In some religions the preist may also take vows of chastity.  I think it would be fair to see a priest as a specialist in rituals including marriages and funerals. 
      Priests usually are not required to shave their heads, they can eat whatever they choose and in most cases they may and do marry.  In Japanese Buddhism such as Zen the folks in America who call themselves priests are usually householders . 
  I asked myself when or how did Zen monks stop being monks and start being householders.   The answer wasn't as clear cut as I assumed it would be.  As far as I can tell references to monks being married  goes back at least to the early Heian period in Japan  (794 to 1185) .  Shinran  (1173-1262) and Ippen  (1239-1289) there were wandering Buddhist mendicants who were married.
      But what is still not clear to me is what Buddhist schools and teachers made this change from all other schools accepted by the Japanese.  In 1872 the Meiji  government issued
   Edict 133 which appears to be the first codification allowing monks grow their hair, eat meat and marry.  But it appears monks had been doing these things for years, in Japan.  
    Japanese Buddhism and the Japanese government were by then interlocked  Temples all over Japan were now owned and operated by families.  The temples and the priesthood had become inherited property , the priesthood  being passed down from father to son. This practice seems to be unique to Japan. 
     The secularization of Japanese monks then seems to have spread across most of the Japanese buddhist schools. The so called "Temple Families "  supported by national laws that required all japanese citizens to be associated with the nearest Temple , seem to have turned the Temples into businesses providing the government with a means of rooting out nonbuddist and the families a great profit in conducting marriages and funerals. 
       In Japan today their are few celibate monks and any distinction between what we call a priest and what we call a monk  is for any practical matter non existent.  A resident monk in a temple is called a Jushoku.  But I  don't think the Jushoku would call themselves a priest.  A Zen monk living in a temple is a hojo but again I am  not positive this word means a priest as we Americans use the word.
       I  know this will upset many folks but the truth seems to be that the Zen Priest seems to be an American invention.  In Japan the married Buddhist monk seems commonplace.  Everywhere else the married Buddhist monks simply don't exist.  In order to justify the Japanese secularization of monks we invented the Zen priest. 
    The answer to my original question about the monk vs the priest seems to be that buddist preists are a  convenient  fabrication by Americans to explain away an aberration that arose in Japan when religion and government became intertwined.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Bodhidharma and the Dance of death

Bodhidharma and the Dance of death

          Sooner or later when you study Zen your teachers will tell you the story of Bodhidharma.  How much of the story is history and how much of it is legend is unknown.  In all the stories Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk who lived during the fifth or sixth century CE. The first remark I would like to make is that there are records of Buddhism having been practiced in China as far back as 213 BC.  It is important to realize that Buddhism had been in China for probably five or 600 years when the monk Bodhidharma crossed from India into China. So there were Buddhist temples and Buddhist monasteries of various schools of Buddhism well established in China when Bodhidharma arrived.

The most common story tells that he originally traveled to China in order to meet the Emperor Wu.  This Emperor was a pious man and a Buddhist.  The Buddhist teachers of his day had taught him about merit which is a sort of karmic bank account to which one can add by good deeds and even by sponsoring the good deeds of others. It is said that the Emperor Wu, on the advice of his Buddhist teachers had sponsored the building of many Buddhist temples and sponsored scriptorium’s were Buddhist monks labored to translate Buddhist documents from Sanskrit into the Chinese written language. 

          The Emperor like most emperors had by necessity accumulated a lot of negative karma in his lifetime.  It was his hope that by building the temples and sponsoring the transcription of the Dharma he would gain merit which would offset his past evil deeds. So when this new monk came into his kingdom from India he invited him to the Imperial Palace.  There he showed Bodhidharma the temples he had built and the other good works he was sponsoring to help spread the Dharma in China.  When he had shown Bodhidharma all these things he looked toward him and asked how much positive merit Bodhidharma believed he had accumulated through these good works. It is said that Bodhidharma told him that he had accumulated nothing.  I am not sure if the point was the Emperor had only done these things to gain merit and therefore his intent was wrong, or if the monk simply didn't believe in the concept of merit but he basiclly told the Emperor he could not buy his way into heaven. Needless to say the Emperor was not too happy with  Bodhidharma and that very wisely the monk from India took his leave and went farther into China.

The next thing we know  Bodhidharma is at the gates of the Shaolin monastery in Henan China.  The story goes that the monks had heard of his disagreement with the Emperor and had refused to allow him entry to the monastery.  The story of Bodhidharma at this point begins to take upon itself the aspects of mythology and legend.  One story says that he just sat in front of the gates and meditated and the intensity of his gaze burned holes into the side of the monastery.   In any case he was eventually allowed to enter the monastery and start his practice of meditation there.  Most of the histories agree that the primary practice at the Shaolin Temple at this time was the transcription of Buddhist writings.  What Bodhidharma found was that the monks spent all their time hunched over tables transcribing Buddhist sutras from Sanskrit to Chinese.

It would seem that Bodhidharma proved himself to his fellow monks by his dedication and that he spent much of his time in meditation.  It’s clear that Bodhidharma was from a different school of Buddhism than the one the Shaolin monks praticed so he began to teach them his philosophy of Buddhism which was to become known as Ch’an in China and later as Zen in Japan. There are many myths associated with Bodhidharma’s stay at the Shaolin Temple. One story says that he sat in meditation so long that his legs fell off. Another story says that he introduced the drinking of tea to Chinese Zen and used his own eyebrows to make tea for the other monks.

But the  important part of the legend we shall address here is that he found the monks out of shape and overweight.  The monks spent all their time sitting at tables and got very little exercise.  So he developed an exercise routine for the monks to practice.  The exercises that he taught the monks were said to be derived from the hatha and raja yoga practices from his native India.  At the time China was not unfamiliar with martial arts. And it was suggested that many of the monks had probably already had training in different forms of martial arts.  In any case over time the monks took the movements and forms that were taught to them by Bodhidharma and evolved them into a form of martial arts that we now call kung fu.

The stories about Bodhidharma while persistent have never really been shown to be anything but legend.  But what is certainly true is that the Buddhist monks at the Shaolin monastery developed a form of martial arts that was both defensive, offensive and sometimes lethal.  The excuse that is given for this persistent training in a lethal martial art is that the monks would have had to defend themselves from robbers thieves and even wild animals. But this story brings into focus a paradox that is persistent in Buddhism to this day.   How could the Buddhist monks of the Shaolin monastery or any other buddhist monastery reconcile their hours of training in martial arts with the teachings of the Buddha.

The legends of course let Bodhidharma off the hook by saying he merely taught some out of shape over weight monks how to do some yoga exercises in order to stay in shape and preserve their health.  This does not however prevent many a statue or  painting of Bodhidharma in a kung fu stance his prayer beads in one hand he being  balanced on the balls of his feet and having a fierce look on his face, he stands  ready to strike.

So this dedicated Buddhist monk has become known as the father of Chan or in Japan Zen Buddhism and at the same time become known as the father of what is often called Temple boxing, or just simply as the father of kung fu.  And this brings forth the paradox of reconciling violence with the teachings of the Buddha.

I’d like to comment that martial arts were not unknown in India in the century in which Bodhidharma is said to have lived.  There was already a well-established connection between the teachings of yoga and their use in martial arts when Bodhidharma crossed into China.   There is at least one section  found in the Vedas (1700 BCE - 1100 BCE) which contains references to martial arts.    Because yoga, much like Tai Chi Chuan, has been promoted in the West as a health exercise, when most people think of yoga, they think of a series of beneficial physical postures.  But yoga has been integrated into various forms of martial arts and fighting forms in India for centuries. Many of the stories in the Vedas have sections including unarmed combat or combat using only a knife or a sword.  So it is not entirely unbelievable that the yoga exercises taught to the monks at Shaolin were in fact already designed to be part of a martial arts system like tai chi is today.  So it may be very possible that those statues showing Bodhidharma in a combat stance are in fact accurate.

     The teachings in Buddhism against violence are in the very earliest known written text of Buddhism.  Ahimsa, is a Buddhist term meaning 'not to injure', and is a primary virtue in Buddhism.

          Every school of Buddhism teaches the four noble truths and the eight fold path.  This eightfold path is composed of eight parts or areas of pratice that work together to teach the student how to manifest the Dharma. Right action is the fourth aspect of the path.  Called samyak-karmanta in Sanskrit, right action is a fundamental part of the ethical conduct portion of the path along with right livelihood and right speech.  It is said that the practitioner should train oneself to be morally upright in one's activities, not acting in ways that would be corrupt or bring harm to oneself or to others. One Sutta simply says:


]” And what is right action?  Abstaining from taking life, stealing and illicit sex, This is called right action.”

                                         — Saccavibhanga Sutta

       In Buddhism, to take refuge in the Dharma - one of the Three Jewels- one vows to not harm other sentient beings.  There can be absolutely no doubt that from the very beginning Buddhism taught nonviolence as a fundamental part of its teaching. This aspect of Buddhism is literally found throughout Buddhist literature from beginning to end. The Buddha is quoted in the Dhammapada as saying, "All are afraid of the stick, all hold their lives dear. Putting oneself in another's place, one should not beat or kill others".   The Nirvana Sutra says, "By taking refuge in the precious Dharma, One's mind should be free from hurting or harming others".  One of the Five Precepts of Buddhist ethics or śīla states, "I undertake the training rule to abstain from killing”

       Many forms of martial arts have resolved themselves into dance execises, this can be seen in tai chi and in certain forms of yoga. speed up the dance and it transforms into a dance of death.  Whether one is learning a dance or learning a way to bring devastating harm to another person may have nothing to do with the substance of what is learned and have everything to do with intent.  The fact is Bodhidharma came from a society with many forms of yoga and many forms of dancing and many forms of martial combat training. The legends we hear tend to preserve Bodhidharma’s character by saying that he only taught them as exercises and that later the monks who by the way were also Buddhists evolve these movements into fighting forms. The one truth we know for certain is that these dances of death became bound up with buddhism over the years.
          The Chan Buddhism that Bodhidharma brought to China eventually found its way to Japan, and Korea and other Eastern countries. In many of these countries the buddhist teachers brought the combat teachings with them as well.  In Japan there was a warrior class known as the samurai that used the focus and concentration taught by their Zen monks to make themselves superior warriors. The pratice of Zen augmented the samurai's combat skills.  

   The   “Sohei”  were Buddhist warrior monks of both medieval and feudal Japan.   These Buddhist warrior monks first appeared during the Heian period ]when bitter political feuds began between different temples, different subsects of Buddhism over imperial appointments to the top temple positions (abbot, or zasu). Much of the fighting over the next four centuries was over these sorts of political feuds, and centered around the temples of Kyoto, Nara and Ōmi namely the Tōdai-ji, Kōfuku-ji Enryaku-ji and Mii-dera, the four largest temples in the country. Historically entire Buddhist organizations developed a culture of violence. 
          Several monasteries in East Asia, specifically in China, Korea, and Japan, employed warriors, many of them highly trained, for protection and to exercise what they considered to be their rightful political and economic rights in the premodern period, mainly before 1600. In many cases, these warriors had monastic names, though they rarely had extensive religious training. These warriors were not truly warrior monks they were basically mercenaries hired by the monasteries to defend what they saw as their rights in a corrupt political system. These warriors were not interested in religious doctrine they were being paid to defend a monastery and had no religious convictions concerning why they were there and what they were supposed to do. Nonetheless their employers were Buddhist monks and as such these monks were bound by the teachings of the Dharma, But the temptations of the material world corrupted them. Buddhist were as susceptible to this kind of corruption as the Catholic Church was.

          It can be argued that these monasteries existed in violent times and were simply trying to survive, but nowhere in the teachings of the Buddha is there a get out of jail free pass if you live in hard times.  There have been many political wars in the past that have disguised themselves as religious wars . That is in fact  what is happening today in many parts of the world. The fact is most of the religious terrorists today are seeking power, make that political power, they are not trying to fulfill the requirements of their religion. they simply seek political power over others.

          Today political pressures are pushing people in and out of countries and across cultural as well as national lines,  upsetting  the cultural and religious balance in these countries. There are political propagandist in the West as well as in the East that are working 24 hours a day ; trying to represent Buddhism as a religion of violence.  In fact there are journalists that are making an entire career out of trying to convince people that Buddhism is the violent religion in the world today and religions like Islam and Christianity and Judaism are the peaceful religions. While this is a pretty hard job still they’re working at it diligently and have been able to convince many people in the West that it is Buddhism that is causing the problems and the violence in places like Burma and Bangladesh.

          I have written this piece to show that from the turn of the first century A.D. there has been a strain of violence woven into the teachings of Buddhism. But unlike in many religions this teaching of violence is not a fundamental part of the Buddhist teaching. In fact it is very alien to the Buddhist teaching. That has not prevented the rise of the warrior monk in medieval Japan. It has not prevented certain Tibetan monks taking up arms against the Chinese when they invaded their country.  And undoubtedly there are people who practice Buddhism that are committing violence in our modern world. But what I would like everyone to realize that this is something that has been brought into Buddhism and is not part of it or its teachings.

         Whenever anyone sets out to demonize one particular group whether it’s Buddhist or Muslims or Christians or Jews the first thing they do is stop appealing to the people they  are talking to's rational brain and start appealing to their fundamental emotional makeup. When a propagandist can get you to start thinking simply with your glands and your hormones and to stop thinking with your brain they have found the path directly into your hate center and that is where your fear lies and fear is what drives people to commit violence in the name of religion. 
           One of the more endearing teachings, probably better described as an approach to teaching , in  Buddhism is to ask the students to think  critically and to demand evidence. The teachings of Buddha recognize that the human mind is composed of both an emotional component and a rational logical component and that the two need to be observed and balanced.  Whatever paradox is created by Bodhidharma being a patriarch of Buddhism and a patriarch of the martial arts can be dealt with by critical thinking and looking for the evidence.  The Buddha never taught violence and while he may have rejected other religious he never ordered that those who praticed these other religiouns be harmed. Buddhism has never taught that the heteric be slain or the unbeliever be killed. Over  the centurys deluded  and power hungery people have used the excuse of Buddhism to do these things, but that is not Buddhism

History has shown that organized Buddhism has been used as a political tool by governments in Japan and other countries   to control and  oppress  their subjects. A good example is the The danka system (danka seido), also known as jidan system (, jidan seido)  was  a system of voluntary and long-term affiliation between Buddhist temples and households in use in Japan since the Heian period. . In it, households (the danka) financially support a Buddhist temple which, in exchange, provides for their spiritual needs. Although its existence long predates the Edo period. (1603–1868), the system is best known for its repressive use made at that time by the Tokugawa, who made the affiliation with a Buddhist temple compulsory to all citizens.
           During the Tokugawa shogunate, the system was turned into a citizen registration network; supposedly intended to stop the diffusion of Christianity and help detect hidden Christians.  it soon became a government-mandated and Buddhist temple-run system to monitor and control the population as a whole.  For this reason, it survived intact long after Christianity in Japan had been eradicated. The system as it existed in Tokugawa times is sometimes called terauke system (, terauke seido) because of the certification (or terauke, because the tera, or temple would issue an uke, or certificate)  a document   issued by a Buddhist temple that a citizen was not a Christian. The now mandatory danka system was officially abolished after World War II, but continues nonetheless to exists as a voluntary association between the two sides, it constitutes a major part of the income of most temples and defines as before the relationship between households and temples.  This system lead to a hereditary priesthood with thousands of   small    family run Temples spread across Japan. Fathers would teach and certify their children to be priests in the family temple. The temple  beacame a source of family income.

      As demographics have changed this system is now in the process of collapse. Over the next 25 years, 27,000 of the country’s 77,000 temples are expected to close, in one of the biggest existential crises facing Japanese Buddhism  since it  was  first  introduced from Korea in the sixth century. Its decline mirrors that of hundreds of small communities that have traditionally helped finance their local temple. In a report released last year, the Japan Policy Council warned that if the exodus, particularly among young women, from rural areas to the cities  continues at the current rate, almost half of Japan’s municipalities will disappear by 2040, along with their places of religious worship. In the past centuries Buddhist temples have turned their temples into funeral parlors. The Japanese priest has become a specialist in the funeral ceremony business.  But modern Japanese have found that these priests and temples have priced themselves out of business.
     In truth none of these certificates and ceremonies have anything to do with the Teachings of the Buddha. The danka system (danka seido) is not a buddhist system, it was and is a political system. I can think of nothing more unbuddhist than a system like the Danka system used to cull out Christias and Buddhist heretics. A system  created as a means of social  control   and    turned   into a means of extotion and blackmail. It was and is a form of  social violence.      


     This is not to say that over the years organized Buddhism has not been ued as a political tool by governments in Japan and other countries   to control and  opress  their subjects. A good example is the The danka system (danka seido), also known as jidan system ( jidan seido) this was  a system of voluntary and long-term affiliation between Buddhist temples and households in use in Japan since the Heian period. . In it, households (the danka) financially support a Buddhist temple which, in exchange, provides for their spiritual needs. Although its existence long predates the Edo period. (1603–1868), the system is best known for its repressive use made at that time by the Tokugawa,  who made the affiliation with a Buddhist temple compulsory to all citizens.
           During the Tokugawa shogunate, the system was turned into a citizen registration network; supposedly intended to stop the diffusion of Christianity and help detect hidden Christians.  it soon became a government-mandated and Buddhist temple-run system to monitor and control the population as a whole.  For this reason, it survived intact long after Christianity in Japan had been eradicated. The system as it existed in Tokugawa times is sometimes called terauke system (寺請制度 terauke seido) because of the certification (or terauke, because the tera, or temple would issue an uke, or certificate) issued by a Buddhist temple that a citizen was not a Christian. The now mandatory danka system was officially abolished after World War II, but continues nonetheless to exists as a voluntary association between the two sides,    It stitutes a major part of the income of most temples and defines as before the relationship between households and temples.  This system lead to a hereditary priesthood with thousands of   small    family run Temples spread across Japan.
      As demographics have changed this system is in the process of collapase. Over the next 25 years, 27,000 of the country’s 77,000 temples are expected to close, in one of the biggest existential crises facing Japanese Buddism  since it  was  first  introduced from Korea in the sixth century. Its decline mirrors that of hundreds of small communities that have traditionally helped finance their local temple. In a report released last year, the Japan Policy Council warned that if the exodus, particularly among young women, from rural areas continues at the current rate, almost half of Japan’s municipalities will disappear by 2040, along with their places of religious worship.In the past centuries Buddhist temples have turned their temples into funeral palors. But modern japanese have found that these preists and temples have priced themseles out of business.




Monday, July 4, 2016

Buddhism is not the renunciation of beauty and joy.

Please do not mistake renunciation of samsara as renunciation of the world. Lord Buddha said we all walk in delusion, projecting our own desires and cravings upon the phenomena of the world. Your suffering is caused by how you see things, how you react to them.  Your job is not to reject the world but to see it as it is.

Whatever there is in the world, pleasant and beautiful, we are attached to them, and we develop a dislike towards their opposites.
But a Buddhist knows that beauty carries pain and suffering just as its opposite’s do. In samsara the so called good and bad things of life are all bound up together. But this suffering is not truly caused by them but rather in our own projections and cravings concerning them.
You may have a loving caring relationship, but you must know it will change and end, No one loved the Buddha more than Ananda, and as he lay dying Ananda wept, and Buddha scolding him saying did I not tell you everything must pass.   

 Knowing this the Buddhist recognizes beauty where the senses can perceive it.  But  in  beauty  he  also  sees its  own  change  and  destruction.  He remembers   what  the  Buddha said with regard  to  all  component things,  that  they  come  into  being,  undergo  change  and  are destroyed.  Therefore the wise man acquires a greater depth of vision.

Believe me, Buddhism is not meant to suck all the beauty and joy from your life. It is the philosophy of change and continuity. And in it, don’t fail to see beauty which can ever be to man an unending source of inspiring joy.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Japanese Death Poems and a few famous last words.

                  A couple years ago I did a post on this blog publishing the death poems of several famous Soto Zen priests.  The death palms of these particulars Soto Zen masters are not easy to find in one place but if you catalog back into my blog you’ll find them there people like Dogan his teacher and his students. I have decided to publish a few more of those death poems by perhaps some lesser-known Zen masters. Some will take the traditional form of the Japanese death poem and others will simply be the last words of people who may or may not have been. Zen or otherwise.

1.  Captain James T. Kirk, 1994,  "Least I could do... for the captain of the Enterprise. It was... fun. Oh, my. "

2. Bassui Tokusho, 20th of January, 1387 

 Look straight ahead. What's there?
  If you see it as it is
  You will never err

3. General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, d. 1863

  Let us cross over the river and sit in the shade of the trees.

Killed in error by his own troops at the battle of Chancellorsville during the US Civil War.

4. The last words spoken by Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes : BBC production, The Adventure of the Cardboard Box from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. 1994, Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, Mr. Brett died the following year 1995.

"What is the meaning of it, Watson? What is the object of this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must have a purpose, or our universe has no meaning, and that  is unthinkable. But what purpose? That  is humanity’s great problem, to which reason so far, has no answer."

5.   Dairin Soto , 27th day of January 1568

My whole life I've sharpened my sword
  And now, face to face with death
   I unsheathe it, and lo ----
   The blade is broken  ----

5. Dokyo Etan, 6th of October 1721
    at the age of 80
Here in the shadow of death it is hard
  To utter the final word
   I'll only say, then
  "without saying"
6. Doyu , 5th of January 1256

   In all my six and fifty years
     No miracles occurred.

7. Enni Ben'en

All my Life I taught Zen to the people ---
   Nine and seventy years
He who sees not things as they are
    Will never know Zen

8. ~~ James Joyce, writer, d. 1941
   " Does nobody understand? "

9. ~~ Oscar Wilde, writer, d. November 30, 1900

"Either that wallpaper goes, or I do."

 10.      Koju, d. 25th of July, 1806

  " And if I do
    Become a spirit ----
    The Party's over. "

11. ~~ Pancho Villa, Mexican revolutionary, d. 1923

"  Don't let it end like this. Tell them I said something. "

12.   Takuro, d. 16th of April 1866

     Soon I shall hear
      The cuckoo's voice
       and liven up.

And for the last quote for my dear Carol.

13.  ~~ Dominique Bouhours, French grammarian, d. 1702

" I am about to -- or I am going to -- die: either expression is correct. "


Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Gandhara Scrolls - déjà vu all over again, Or the Oldest known copies of Buddhist Texts.

       In 1994 the British Library, whatever that may be, since we in America have a lot of libraries ourselves, purchased or otherwise acquired what has been alternatively known as the  Gandhara scrolls or sometimes the birch bark scrolls. The information available on the Internet states that the scrolls were found in clay jars buried under what was most likely the floor of the Buddhist monastery in what was once the country and is now the province of Gandhara.  As might be expected from something that is sometimes referred to as the birch bark scrolls these are scrolls written on birch bark. In this particular instance the scrolls are copies of Buddhist writings and materials. They are written in the Gandhari language and the scrolls themselves have been carbon dated to about the year one CE, what we used to call the year one AD before it became politically incorrect to do so.

     The dating of the scrolls to the year one CE makes the birch bark upon which they are written the oldest known copies of Buddhist religious material. I should be very clear since very few other people have been that this does not mean that they are in anyway the first and original and conclusively and positively the oldest versions of the documents they contain.  Birch bark has been used for writing things down on for centuries there are even birch bark letters written by the victims of the Soviet repressions who had been sent to the Siberian gulags and settlements by Stalin.

            Apparently the British Library realized that they had obtained something very special when they obtain the scrolls. It is my understanding that the first person they contacted about this was a linguist by the name of Dr. Richard Salomon. I would like to note upfront that Dr. Richard Salomon is neither a practicing Buddhist nor an expert on Buddhism or Buddhist history. He it is as far as I can determine a linguist who was one of the few on the planet who could translate the scrolls.  Sometime after this Dr. Salomon gave an interview which I read in which he stated that these documents would not suffer the same fate of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

            In 1946 some people in Israel discovered what has become known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. All of these documents were eventually moved and locked up in one Israeli institution, which had a complete monopoly on them between the years of 1946 in 1991.  The Dead Sea Scrolls were shown to only a very small and select group of linguist historians and scholars and their contents were more or less Completely secret until 1991.  In 1991 an American University announced that they had obtained a complete photographic reproduction of all the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The institution which had held a monopoly on them in Israel for decades immediately went ballistic stating that these were stolen documents and should not be released. Of course the fact that the content of the Dead Sea Scrolls was absolutely secret for so long lead to numerous conspiracy theories. Now I will return you to Dr. Salomon and the Kandahar scrolls.

            Sometime after he was brought in to translate the scrolls it was decided to create what became known as the Gandhara scroll project. A select group of linguist and historians, absolutely none of which as far as I can determine are actually Buddhist, was picked by the library to have the sole access to the scrolls. That was 22 years ago.  In those 22 years one would have expected that at some point given the great Dr. Richard Salmon’s profession that the scrolls would not suffer the same fate as the Dead Sea Scrolls, a public and complete index and translation of the Gandhara scrolls should have been made public. But as far as I can determine that has never been done.

            This is not to say that some translations of some of the content of the scrolls has not been printed. The scholars involved in the project have over the decades certainly published excerpts from the scrolls and scholarly journals around the world. But as far as I can tell they have not even gone so far as to release an index of the full content of the scrolls.  I thought perhaps this would change when the good Dr. Salomon published a nice big fat paperback book entitled the Gandhara scrolls.  You can purchase a copy of this book I believe there’s one left on Amazon.com for $50 and shipping. But if you expected to find a complete translation of the contents of the scrolls in this big expensive book you’re going to be very disappointed. If you’re interested in the bark they were written on or the ink that was used to write them you’re going to be a happy camper.  If you wish to read at length a discussion of the handwriting of the scribes that wrote the scrolls then this book is for you.  But if you’re a Buddhist wanting to find out what they say exactly, you’re still more or less out of luck.

            I don’t mean to be too cynical here but it appears to me and I would like to emphasize this is just an opinion that the scholars involved in the project have used the content of the scrolls simply for the sole purpose of advancing their own careers.  There is an old saying in the halls of the greatly educated that a tenured professor must publish or perish and so over the decades some things have been published and I’m sure the members of this small group of select scholars have benefited greatly from these publications. 

            If you go on the Internet you can certainly access the Wikipedia article on the subject. The article will tell you that the scrolls contained versions of the Dhammapada, the Rhinoceros Sutra, and  text  from the Avadanas, and  Abhidharma. They’ll even tell you what sect somebody or other believes that the scrolls were transcribed by and what language and dialect they were written in. But it will not direct you to a full translation of the documents.  If you go to the website of the British Museum you will find a webpage on the scrolls and on that webpage at the very bottom there will be a header that says “what do the Gandhara scrolls say?”  And beneath that header you will find a paragraph of scholarly gibberish that basically says in plain English a bunch of Buddhist stuff.

            So apparently if you have a year or so to track down the various articles in which the members of the group have published excerpts from the scrolls and to travel to various universities to attend lectures by various scholars you might get some idea of the content of the scrolls and you might not. Apparently a wonderful lady by the name of Linda Heuman did just that.  And she wrote an article on the scrolls for tricycle magazine. The article was basically paraphrasing a lecture she attended by the good Dr. Richard Salomon. And she of course is totally willing to accept his translation and his interpretation of the scrolls since he’s certainly not going to actually release pictures of the scrolls or an exact and total translation of the scrolls.  He has however come up with a wonderful theory which he claims to have revolutionized the understanding of Buddhist history in which he is certainly not an expert.

            Basing my opinion solely upon what Linda Heuman states in her article in tricycle magazine, charts included, the good doctor has discovered that Buddhist in Afghanistan and Gandhara some 500 years after the death of Buddha and maybe 300 years after King Ashoka made Buddhism the state religion of the entire Indian subcontinent and ordered that all known Buddhist text be collected and written down in his version of Sanskrit,  had written the scrolls based upon various translations of those same documents that we already have copies of. The good doctor has given assurances that there is no fifth noble truth or any other shocking revelations in these documents, sort of.

           It is my understanding that this project is being run out of the University of Washington in the United States.  And although I have never found the document stating precisely who’s in charge of this project it would appear that at least too a great extent Dr. Salomon is.  Considering that there are millions of practicing Buddhist in the world who would probably very much like to read an accurate translation of these documents and judge for themselves the variations and differences in them they to are simply out of luck. To say that this not only disappoints me what makes me somewhat angry would be I suppose an understatement. Of course one man’s religious text is very clearly another man’s path to tenure.

           The traditional story of how the words of Buddha were originally recorded in written form comes to us from  what is called the Pali Cannon.  It goes something more or less like this. About a year after the Buddha died a king Ajasattu, who was King of the Haryanka dynasty of the kingdom of Magadha in North India, sponsored what has become known as the first Buddhist Council. According to the documents we have this council was chaired by the great Buddhist monk Mahakassapa,  who many believe was the direct successor to Buddha in the teaching and the running of the Buddhist monastic movement.  Then of course we are told that Buddha,s cousin Ananda who just happen to have a photographic memory recited and had transcribed for the councils approval all the teachings of the Buddha.

            I have always had a problem with this because India at the time was a very literate country. The two upper caste of the different countries and kingdoms of Nepal and India had had a written language and a profound literature for probably 1000 years the day Buddha was born.  His first followers were almost certainly of the upper caste as was Ananda and Mahakassapa. In Fact Mahakassapa was known to have been an extremely well educated Hindu scholar before he converted to become a follower of the Buddha.  So it has always been very hard for me to believe that these men,  dozens maybe even hundreds of them,  followed Buddha around for 60 years or more and never wrote down a single word that he had uttered. Let us just say that while I believe the event probably occurred, I just don’t believe that none of the monks had ever written anything Buddha said down until that meeting, of course I don’t believe Buddha could fly either.

            I also find Dr. Salomon’s statements that Buddhist scholars have up until his revelations believed that there was somewhere out there this document X from which all other Buddhist text were derived as rather sophomoric. This might have been true of none Buddhist in the west in the 19th century, but not since then. Please believe me when I say  I’m very aware of sectarianism in Buddhism.  Virtually every school of Buddhism claims to have the real form of Buddhism and know exactly what Buddha did say and what he didn’t.
        Mr. Stephen Bachelor is at this very moment making a very good living claiming that he can read the thousands of Buddhist text and through some mental acuity known only to him determine what the real Buddhist teachings are and what they are not. There is no word in the English language that summarizes the phrase just tell people what they want to hear;  no one term that describes this however it is a successful model for getting your books published in modern day America.
        Mr. Bachelor observed that modern Buddhist have a real problem with the idea of rebirth and karma so naturally using a special power of observation he has authoritatively   made the observation that despite 2000 years of traditional Buddhist teaching the Buddha never really believed in either of those two things and they were simply cultural artifacts left over from his original religion Hinduism.  Now don’t you feel better that you don’t have to believe in nasty old karma or rebirth to be a Buddhist.
        Mr. Bachelor wrote a now famous book concerning his revelation that there is no God I think it was called something like confessions of a Buddhist atheist. Mr. Bachelor of course knows that the majority of his audience will not be familiar with Akkineni Nagarjuna’s essay on the subject of God and his quite logical argument as to why no such creature could exist.  Since most of his audience are Western people who follow Zen and are probably the most poorly informed and concerning Buddhist teachings and history the most ignorant of the western Buddhist community I am sure he feels safe in claiming he discovered this idea of the Atheist Buddhist.

            In the same vein Dr. Richard Salomon is apparently willing to say that he’s the first person or scholar to realize that the monks that went down the silk Road were probably carrying with them Buddhist documents written in numerous different languages from the original Sanskrit to Chinese. His observation that determining which exact Buddhist text may have actually flowed from the mouth of the Buddha was virtually impossible is about as original as a pancake.

            A Japanese monk born on 19 January in the year 1200 AD,( oops sorry CE) in Kyoto Japan made this observation when he was about , oh I don’t know 30 years old.  In fact he was so dissatisfied with his form of Buddhism and this very issue  that he left Japan and went to China in order to do what he later called "settle the great matter".  He came back to Japan and if I have read his various writings correctly he determined that the only thing that anyone could be absolutely certain of was that Buddha taught sitting meditation.
              Interestingly enough he wrote thousands of words on Buddhism and was perhaps one of the greatest Buddhist scholars to ever live, while at the same time during his life condemning Buddhist scholarship. Well that’s Zen for you.   The great Tibetan scholar Tsongkapa and his predecessors certainly address this exact same problem themselves.

            I find it interesting that the modern Buddhist scholars  and for that matter the thousands of Buddhist students that followed these two great Buddhist scholars seem to have been completely incapable of adhering to their solution to the problem.  While Dogan was alive there arose in Japan a controversy over a certain Sutra and its authenticity. It seems there were two versions of the Sutra one with a few more verses than the other one.  Since most people knew even in his lifetime that Dogan was in fact a great Buddhist scholar they came to him and ask him which of the two versions of the Sutra were the authentic Sutra.  Dogan replied to them that if the Buddhist teacher could teach you Buddhism with a stick he picked up off the ground it was the authentic stick. Once again that’s Zen for you.
       Tsongkapa’s solution was a little more complex. In his writings he observed that the first turning of the wheel of the Dharma, that is to say Buddha's first teaching of  the four noble truths and the eight fold path was actually presented in the form that a doctor’s diagnosis and prescription much as would have been done by a doctor in Buddha’s lifetime. He saw Buddhism as a medicine and observed that the variations in the teachings of the Buddha the contradictions of the teachings and the different schools of the teachings were simply the result of each person and each society having different problems that needed to be dealt with by different  medicine,  that is to say the different  schools and texts of the Dharma.  He advised that none of these teachings these  be discarded or ignored rather that they be kept in your pharmacy for use when the need arose. Of course neither the gulag school nor the Soto Zen sect in Japan followed their founder’s advice. They are just as sectarian as anybody else in Buddhism or religion. When the 14th Dalai Lama tried to follow the founder of his schools advice on this issue fanatics in his own  school murdered 8 of his close advisers. After all those advisors were from other Tibetan schools so why not butcher them, if you don't believe this happened look it up.
              It would be a great joy to me personally if the Gandahar documents were to be released so that anybody who wanted too could translate them; and if  a  complete English translation of all the documents in both the British Museum and elsewhere were either made available on the Internet to anyone who wanted to read them or at least published in an affordable book where Buddhist would have easy access to them. But I’m not get a hold my breath.




Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Sins of the Zen Masters and other reasons not to Quit Zen

              In the United States and in the West in general there is a grand illusion  concerning Buddhism: And once that grand illusion dissolves the curtain swings open and many people in Buddhist communities look at Buddhism and its teachings with new eyes.  Buddhism has done well in the West and it would seem like there are new Buddhist centers of every school opening all over the United States everyday. As I noted when I first started this blog many if not all of the people that are coming to Buddhism are coming from other religions from which they have fled in disillusionment. They come to Buddhism expecting a spiritualism that they didn’t find in their native religion.  Unfortunately they also come caring dreams of perfection concerning the teachers of Buddhism and unfortunately most of them do not take the time to study and truly understand the teachings or the foundations of those teachings.

            Most of the people that come to Buddhism seem to be fairly well-educated many of them have college degrees and many of them have graduate degrees. But having a Western education isn’t the same as understanding the teachings and foundation of Buddhism and sometimes when the two conflict rather than digging deeper new students of Buddhism simply walk away. 

            One of the great misunderstandings is Buddhism’s relationship to science.  This misunderstanding has been propagated by a lot of Buddhist teachers including the Dalai Lama. They have given a lot of people in the West the idea that modern scientific knowledge and Buddhist teachings run parallel to each other.  The simple fact is many of the early Buddhist teachings do in fact reinforce scientific research as it is known today but that doesn’t mean it’s identical or that your view of Buddhism should be based on your view of science.  I’ve always felt that science was simply another religion that had been born in the enlightenment and grown across the world just like any other religion and into the 21st century.  If science is your religion you probably have no place to put a second religion if it begins to conflict with your belief system that was formed by the modern scientific mold. Buddhism predicted the multi-verse, much of what Buddhist realized through meditation has been proven out through modern scientific research. Quantum physics and Buddhism get along quite well, but you can not expect them to be constantly in sync with each other.  Buddhism often treads in areas science can never truly walk. We sometimes call this the spiritual world but at it's simplest it is a super mundane aspect of reality as we experience it. As I have often noted modern physics now asks us to believe 75 to 85 per cent of the universe is made of dark matter and dark energy which is totally invisible, They expect us to simply accept this,  so at least for now I see this conflict as a draw.  

            The next issue that always comes up is the issue of karma. It seems that no matter how many times Buddhist teachers tell their Western students the nature of karma they simply seem unable to absorb it. Buddhist teachers will tell you over and over again that karma is not a set of rules like the 10 Commandments set out by God to direct the faithful and set punishment for the sinful. It really seems odd that they can accept the fact that when they’re studying science that the universe has natural laws and specific rules that are followed by the material contents of that universe and at the same time seemed totally unable to comprehend the idea that there might be similar natural laws that affect things that are not material but whose effects are part of the mundane world around us. The law of cause and effect has been accepted by people in the West for centuries and karma is nothing more than an extension of this law a subset that applies to nonmaterial things. These nonmaterial things may be considered spiritual or they  can be considered to be composed of forces and materials and energies yet on detected by science and remain unobserved by science, like dark matter and dark energy. In any case to believe in karma is not to believe in a God hidden away somewhere in the teachings of Buddhism. If gravity needs no god, why should karma?
            I have previously spoken on my opinions concerning reincarnation or rebirth in Buddhism. I have also pointed out that science has developed the laws of the conservation of matter, conservation of  energy and more recently the conservation of information. I think the real problem often is people who are educated in the west have only a rudimentary understanding of modern science and an even more rudimentary understanding of the foundations of Buddhism. I myself have never found any great conflict between the two,  however many people do. 
             I note here that many modern Buddhist simply ignore both rebirth and Karma, and despite their being major under laying concepts in Buddhism, these folks seem to toddle along being Buddhist just fine without them.. So it would appear they are optional in modern Buddhism and certainly no reason to leave. One thing you will seldom find in modern Buddhism is a Dogma to which you will be required to adhere to against your will or contrary to your common sense.

           Modern psychology has had a tendency in the last few decades to plagiarize a lot of the teachings of Buddhism.  There have been a lot of claims made by psychologists and psychiatrists concerning the medical value of meditation that simply may not be true for everyone.  Everyone from Doctors to new age life coaches now want to teach you to meditate.  But of course few of them or even the modern students of Buddhism have bothered to read the Buddhist materials warning students of the dangers inherent in meditation.  Many of the oldest teachings on meditation contain  a lot of material concerning the need for a strong foundation and a very good teacher when  preceding with the practice of meditation. More often than not neither  the psychologists that have plagiarized the information nor the many modern new age teachers of meditation are actually qualified to teach it and guide their students around the hazards involved. Further these modern psychologist fail to recognize that the Buddhist science of the mind was developed with an entirely different goal than modern psychology was. Even their basic understanding of what a mind is are different from each other.  The ancient Buddhist meditation masters and the sutras give warnings of the dangers you may find within your mind during meditation. If your Buddhist teacher has not prepared you for these demons, find another teacher, but don't give up. 

            Now we come face-to-face with the men who brought Buddhism to America and their students. I believe it was December 2013 that Mark Oppenheimer wrote his exposé of Eido Shimano.  The subject of the book was sexual predation by a much revered and heavily financed Zen teacher who come to the United States I think in 1964 and rode the wave of that era into the 21st century.  The problem of Buddhist teachers, sexual misconduct and predation on their female students was by 2013 a very old story to any of us that had been practicing Zen for any length of time. In fact the idea of a much revered Zen teacher sexually abusing his students had by that time becoming so banal as to be prosaic.  Many don't even seem shocked by it anymore, or even ashamed of it.

       The list of offenders  starts out with the very beginning teachers  who came to America from Japan , such Zen Masters as Taizan Maezumi, Joshu Saaki and of course Eido Shimano. And I don’t think any of us were ignorant of Suzuki Roshi’s student Richard Baker and his sexual antics.  When my late wife attended the University of Tennessee obtaining her graduate degree in philosophy she told me that Alan Watts spent the summer there teaching a course in Buddhist philosophy and spent every spare minute  trying to get into every ladies skirt on the college campus, including hers.  The fact is Zen centers all over the country seem to have been plagued by teachers who couldn’t keep their pants zipped. I recently read an article claiming that at least 30 of the 40 major  Zen centers in the U.S.  have had  abbots or head teachers that have been involved in sexual misconduct.  This is becoming a very big issue and why many people leave because of it.
            Perhaps the most disturbing thing about all this to a Buddhist who has studied Buddhism and specifically Zen Buddhism is the issue of lineage holders and transmission.  Suzuki Roshi transmitted his lineage to Richard Baker. When asked about this  he made the usual kind of Zen paradoxical comment we’ve come to expect from Zen teachers, “transmission is nothing”  and “ there is nothing to transmit”. But the fact is when one Buddhist priest makes  another person a Buddhist priest of his lineage something is supposed to have been accomplished between the two. Traditionally the transmission of the lineage would only occur when the teacher had determined that the student had obtained the measure of enlightenment required to carry on the lineage. But what we’ve seen here in the West is a horde of transmitted teachers who are sexual abusers and alcoholics. Even in Japan American students have come home with stories of horrible physical abuse of student monks by their teachers in Japan. We also read the histories of famous Zen monks like, Omori Soyen and Hakuun Yasutani who were apparently involved in extreme right wing militarism in Japan and may have even been involved in murder and assassination.  All these awful things are being done by people who have received transmission and are Priests and teachers. 

            So far our experience in the United States with the so-called enlightenment of lineage holders would have to lead one to believe that in fact it is nothing but bull shit.  That Shunryn Suzuki wasn’t just being all Zen like when he said there was nothing to transmit and that transmission was nothing.  This failure not only to establish that the credentials of the individuals that have been made Priests are  qualified teachers, but in fact seems to totally fail to even warrant  that the person who holds the lineage is even a moral individual capable of understanding the difference between right and wrong.  This makes a sham of the total concept. We are supposed to believe that thousands of years of transmission are just a joke. That the Buddhist Patriarchs were just a bunch of scam artists.

       People who claim to understand Zen but in fact don’t, may set back and pontificate  "there is no right and wrong"  but if that was so then there wouldn’t be any such thing as the Buddhist  precepts and no Vinaya.  Such a belief in practice makes you a nihilist not a Buddhist . You can’t have it both ways either the precepts exist or they’re just a bunch of pretty words that the Zen priest are using to cover up their illicit behavior. People expect a spiritual teacher to have better morals than an alley cat. No amount of pontification or Zen like BS concerning the lack of right and wrong is going to change the fact that the public is going to want spiritual teachers that are not perverts.  The evidence is that whatever gauge it is that our previous  Zen priests and their teachers  have been using to decide who they ordain apparently  dose not include character or morality, which would seem to preclude  any possible kind of enlightenment as the word is understood by most lay Buddhist. This simply must change!  The sins of the Zen masters have been an epidemic these last few years. But there are many, many fine Zen masters still remaining.  Students you have an obligation to the others in your Zen community to refuse to let yourself be abused or exploited.

           I will make no excuses for the Buddhist teachers that have abused their power and their students and the Dharma in the United States. The simple fact is there is no excuse for them.  But that is not an indictment of the teachings as much as it is an indictment of the failure of these men’s teachers to properly evaluate their students and look deep into the character of the people who come to them.  Zen teachers are just human beings like everyone else and they have the same faults as other people.  But whether you’re a Catholic priest or a Buddhist priest your religion has expectations of you and adherence to morality is high on that list of expectations.

            Zen priests in America have all the same faults of Christian priests and preachers.  Some of them have egos so big it’s mind-boggling while others pandered to the rich in order to establish their  power, fame and authority.  There is more than one way to abuse your female students, pandering to the delusions of elderly widows in order to milk their bank accounts is in my opinion just as bad as fondling the younger women and shows just as big of failure of character.             

            Another of the really interesting misconceptions of Westerners who come the Buddhism is that it is offering some kind of salvation.  They don’t bother to study Buddhism or even read the four noble truths.  Salvation is a Christian concept that simply isn’t found in Buddhism.  Buddha created a religion, some call it a philosophy, the purpose of which was to mitigate the suffering of the human condition.  Buddhism has been around for almost 2500 years if not longer and people and teachers have over the years added and subtracted from the teachings of the Buddha but nowhere did anyone ever say Buddha offered you salvation.  Some may say Amitabha Buddha offers salvation, perhaps he does, but I think they have misunderstood the teaching
           Some people make a big deal about the fact that the Buddha left his wife and child in search of spiritual awakening. They are  told his story and are both offended and amazed that he would do such a thing. They don't stay long enough to read the rest of his history where his wife,  his son and his mother all later joined him  in his community. In other words that he was a human not a god. Like all men you must look closely before you make a judgment of him.   They don’t read the story of how his other family members were slaughtered by an opposing King and the efforts he made to prevent their deaths. If you have come to Zen looking for a god to worship in the hope he will be your savior or even looking for perfection, you have come to the wrong door. .

                   Personally I think that everyone who comes to Buddhism no matter what the school must realize that it is not a philosophy or a teaching where someone’s going to offer you a free ride to Nirvana. It is not a school of magic and mystical powers like Hogwarts. If you come to Buddhism expecting to be spoon fed and thinking that someone is going to do all the work for you then you’re bound to be disillusioned in the end. Even pure land schools require much of their followers and don't offer a free ride to the pure land.             

            I don’t know if there’s ever going to be a way to tell whether or not a teacher is actually a predator or if the student is actually a predator looking for the tools to do their hunting. But I can only hope that with the almost endless amount of material available out there for us to study that the people in the West will pick up their obligation and do their part in solving this problem of the grand illusion.  It cannot all be blamed upon the sins of the Zen masters.
          But it is clear these issues must be addressed by the Buddhist community now and not later.  In my opinion every center must develop an education program on the foundations of Buddhism, and enforce the precepts as far as the teachers, priests and abbots are concerned.  If you read the old teachings on the student teacher relationship you will find that the student has just as much obligation as the teacher does in deciding if the character of the other person is suitable to the Dharma. The members of a Sangha have a duty to keep it's members safe from this exploitation.

     If you are considering leaving your Buddhist center for any of the reasons I have mentioned in this post, I would ask you to take the matter very seriously. There are many centers and many teachers out there now that can address all these problems and help you find your Zen. In the end the greatest strength of the Dharma is that it is true, and that's worth the struggle to find in a world full of lies and liars.