Monday, September 11, 2006

“Suck-ass Advice” and “Crap Teaching”

Seems my “eyes wide shut” posting/question on 8/29 resulted in quite a bit of discussion. That is the beauty of the blogo-Dharma-sphere. I am amazed that we can ask a simple question like that, and get responses not only from our fellow e-Sangha practitioners, but also from the likes of Sensei Nishijima and the famous Zen author, Brad Warner!

Frankly, I am a bit in awe of Sensei Nishijima, so I would have never even thought to ask him the question directly. Dan, thanks for forwarding it on to him.

Apparently, Brad Warner was also cc’ed on the question when it was posed to Sensei Nishjima, and Brad joined the discussion in his post, “Zen is Not a ‘Bottom Line Whatever Works for You’ Philosophy.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love Brad’s confrontational style and ‘hard core’ attitude. It is refreshing. But I think he jumped the gun a bit in his posting.

My original question had to do with advice on sitting with eyes open or eyes shut. In the COMMENTS section, I later posted an email response from “a trusted advisor on matters of Dharma.” His response started, “Some people prefer to meditate with eyes open and some with them closed. Bottom line is what works best for you. As far as the 'official' zen position though...”

Now Brad’s commentary seemed to really focus on the snippet, “what works best for you,” and Brad railed against this statement, and how it is not “Zen”:

“There are lots of guys out there in the Blogosphere giving advise on Zen practice and, unfortunately, most of them are like the guy who told the Truth Seeker that ‘bottom line is whatever works for you.’… Nothing personal, but that advice sucks ass. Zen is not a ‘bottom line is whatever works for you’ philosophy. ‘Whatever works for you’ is crap teaching. Don't ever accept crap teaching. I take so much flak from people who've learned from God only knows where that Zen is ‘whatever works for you’ and are driven to madness by my insistence that it is not. But it isn't. Nope. Never. ‘Whatever works for you’ means you accept what massages your ego and reject what doesn't. That is not Buddhism. That is not Reality. Reality does not bend in order to please you and neither does the philosophy and practice of Zen. Shunryu Suzuki said, ‘If the teaching doesn't feel like it's forcing something upon you, it's not good teaching.’ That is the real spirit of Buddhism. If you're not ready for that, you're not ready for Buddhism.”

Whew! Brad, read the quote more carefully. He never said that “Zen is whatever works best for you.” He specifically separated the “whatever works best for you” statement from his commentary on ‘official’ Zen tradition.

My question to him was based on the fact that I come from a tradition that teaches closed-eye meditation, and I am now having difficulty with the open-eye practice of Zazen. Knowing that I am a student of Theravada Buddhism that is learning more about Zen, my friend’s advice regarding “whatever works for you” was not commenting on the proper attitude in Zazen. It was advice on whether to follow the Zazen tradition in the first place.

In the COMMENTS section of Brad’s post, Gesus wrote, “Zazen is a discipline. Every discipline has a proper form. Anything else said would be mere tautology on the subject.” Beautifully stated, Gesus.

Zazen, as a discipline, seems to have very well-defined postures and attitudes. That is wonderful. However, life is not so well defined. What about the question of whether to practice Zazen or a Theravada method in the first place?

Would the Buddha answer, “Thou shalt practice Zazen, for all else is crap”? I doubt it. He may respond something like this (Kalama Sutra):

1.] Do not accept and believe just because something has been passed along and retold through the years.

2.] Do not believe just because some practice has become traditional.

3.] Do not accept and believe merely because of the reports and news spreading far and wide through one's village, or even throughout the world. Only fools are susceptible to such "rumors," for they refuse to exercise their own intelligence.

4.] Do not accept and believe just because something is cited in a Pitaka. [The word "Pitaka," which is used for the Buddhist scriptures, means anything written or inscribed upon any suitable writing material.]

5.] Do not believe just because something fits with the reasoning of logic (takka).

6.] Do not believe just because something is correct on the grounds of naya (deductive and inductive reasoning) alone. [These days, naya is called "philosophy."]

7.] Do not believe or accept just because something appeals to one's common sense, which is merely snap judgments based on one's tendencies of thought.

8.] Do not believe just because something stands up to or agrees with one's preconceived opinions and theories.

9.] Do not believe just because the speaker appears believable.

10.] Do not believe just because the Samana or preacher, the speaker, is "our teacher."

Buddhism is different from other religions in that it does not require its practitioners to become mindless, unreasoning zealots, accepting beliefs and practices “just because.” Buddhism encourages us to be skeptical, and to question everything.

And that is hard core.

Love ya Brad, keep keeping us on our toes.

10 Comments:

At September 11, 2006, Blogger nai wakara said...

i had to re-read his bit on zazen in the book after that post. he's gotten a lot more hardcore. i think it's positive if it provokes more thought and discussion. i like when people contradict themself in this way if it makes you think about it more than you would've.

 
At September 12, 2006, Blogger Reckless said...

Lets just question everything and not accept any practice in the end. Because every decision you make is ultimately biased, whether you like it or not. Besides who is the questioner? Isn't he flawed.
Just go with your intuition and practice the type of meditation that is reasonable and realistic. This is why I chose zen.

The reason why Zazen is an open eye meditation because zen buddhists do not close themselves off from the world. Its as simple as that.
The world and yourself is the same thing. Zazen in the flow of 10,000 things is the 10,000 things.

 
At September 12, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

If you are finding it difficult to practice with eyes open then practice with eyes open.

It is outside of your comfort zone and that is a good thing.

With eyes closed it is easy to detach from reality. With eyes open you tend to stay with reality much more.

There is no single 'right' absolute way to meditate. There are many.

If the place you attend has an eyes-open tradition then do that.

Zazen is as much about accepting what makes you uncomfortable as it is about anything else.

 
At September 12, 2006, Blogger Element said...

I think we all believe in something, otherwise we can not live.
You believe or experience that sitting Zazen is better than not sitting, or?
One wouldn't beginn to sit without belief or the intuition that it is the right thing. The difference is, that we are manipulated to believe that it is the right thing, that has to be questioned. But who knows. Do I know if I betray myself or not?

Questioning your believes is to sit zazen. Your Ego, the five skandhas are just believe. Your thoughts are just thoughts.

In the Shobogenzo Chapter 49 Butsudo Master Dogen says that it is important for a person to have the ability to recognize an authentic person. He also denies the existence of different zen schools, or the zen school itself.

I think it's important to practice zazen in a right way, and I think I can trust Brad and Master Nishijima.

It's annoying the ego to hear "arrogant" statements like Brad's, or?

But what do I know, my intuition says me that he is all right.

 
At September 12, 2006, Blogger Anatman said...

Yes, Brad is arrogant, and yes, he is alright. The arrogance and hardcore attitude is what I loved about his book, and it is what keeps me reading his blog. I can personally relate to his attitude, whereas I cannot relate to "all is love, khum-bai-yah" Buddhists.

MikeDoe, what you wrote resonates with me. I am practicing Zazen now with open eyes because it is difficult. I like the symbolism of it as well, as I see Buddhism as the practice of paying attention and living with eyes open.

Sometimes it takes an arrogant bastard like Brad to smack your dogma in the head, make you blink twice, and open your eyes.

My response to Brad was not based on bruised ego, though. It was more in defense of a person that I felt Brad had slandered inappropriately. The person who offered me advice on meditation did so selflessly, and never held himself up as a teacher.

To top it off, I feel Brad's criticism of the advice was based on his misundersanding/misreading of the the same.

Plus, the martial artist in me just likes to spar.

That said, I am very grateful to Dan, Brad, Sensei Nishijima, Mike Luetchford, and everyone else here for weighing in on the subject and helping to increase our understanding and improve our practice.

Namaste.

 
At September 12, 2006, Blogger Reckless said...

I think Brad hits a nerve when he talks of "true Buddhism" or rebirth being just an idea.
He may fit the normal definition of the word arrogance, but thats OK with me.
I know he is genuine in what he teaches and never tries to impress. In fact Im sure Brad could have gained popularity like the Mother Theresa (maybe an exaggeration) if he did everything in his power to impress people with spiritual knowledge and what not.
But thats irrelevant to him, as it is irrelevant to the whole of humanity, which is why he only tries to point to the truth.
Its all up to you to find inspiration in the words and their meaning.

 
At September 13, 2006, Blogger Jinzang said...

Lets just question everything and not accept any practice in the end.

In Zen there is something that the teacher sees which the new student does not. Someone who insists on Zen strictly on their own terms is thrashing around in the dark, wasting time and energy. I don't believe in blind faith, but there needs to be a bond of trust between student and teacher. This bond develops naturally over time--there's no need to force it. But I do believe that without it, practice is much harder.

 
At September 14, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

jinzang:
"In Zen there is something that the teacher sees which the new student does not. "

This is very true, but such teachers are rare. You'd be very lucky if there was just one in a particular local zendo or sangha

 
At September 15, 2006, Blogger Drunken Monkey said...

"but such teachers are rare."

What makes you say that?

I've met quite a few teachers and its hard to see things from their perspective. They choose their words wisely and laugh at your crappy jokes. They are generally quiet and humble folk.

 
At September 15, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

dm:
That's just my perspective from where I am. It may or may not be valid.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home