Saturday, July 07, 2007

Zen Buddhism and Love

From Alan Watts and D T Suzuki to Brad Warner I got the impression that Zen was harsh and iconclastic. But there are ways in which the actual practice of Zen has surprised my me. One of those ways is just how 'religious' it all is. By this I mean that there is a great deal of ritual, ceremony, chanting, and dressing up in special clothes. I was expecting something more austere and simple. It isn't very dogmatic or metaphysical, but in form it's remarkably close to Christianity and other religions. It's like Catholicism without the God; reverence without object of reverence; faith without object of faith.

Another thing that surprised me was the emphasis on love. I knew that Tibetan and other forms of Buddhism emphasised direct cultivatation of metta ('loving kindness') and in contrast Zen seemed to emphasise transcendence of ideas of good and evil - something which I was concerned might lead to a sort of amoral attitude. This was reinforced by stories about the association between Zen and the martial arts and it's involvement in pre-war Japanese militarism. Compassion was something that, according to doctrine, arose naturally from awakening, but whether this was true or not I couldn't know.

The godos of the Association Zen Internationale I have practiced with, perhaps especially Jean-Pierre, teach that in the West we have an unbalanced understanding based on attachment to emptiness and negation in Zen - an understanding that can lead to nihilism and amoralism. Soto Zen in Japan, he teaches, is more positive, emphasising espression of appreciation, gratitude and love.

The Zen I have experienced here has not consisted of cerebral mind-games, not has it had the sometimes sickly-sweet 'sincerity' of some Buddhist groups I've experienced - but it has been an exercise in awareness, interdependent living. Day to day activities are practiced with consciousness, with appreciation and emphasising interdependence. Most meals are eaten in silence, but with people serving each other rather than themselves. It's a great atmosphere. And this practice of caring for other people becomes a habit that seeps into the rest of life. Emily was very impressed by my attentiveness when I came out of my 7-day sesshin.


At July 07, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lots of good points in here Justin:

Many people find the religious and ritualistic aspects helpful. For many people if it feels 'special' or 'mystical' it helps them. Never forget though that even in most branches of Zen Buddhism Zazen itself is a ritualistic practice - few people in daily life choose to sit and stare/not-stare at a wall just for the hell of it...

Loving-Kindness meditations and their ilk can work but they can also be an artificial thing. It does depend on the motivation of the practicioner to some extent.

Zen may in the end be amoral but you only reach that point when morality no longer serves a purpose!

To bring the last two points together...

If you truly experience oneness with everything and everyone then two things naturally can occur in a healthy human individual.

Firstly, since it is a very rare kind of human that seeks to harm themselves, a person who is at one with everyone is most unlikely by their nature to seek to harm another and by their nature may well in fact do the opposite.

Secondly, a concept of morality exists because we do not really trust ourselves. The belief underlying this is that if I am free to do anything then I will chose from that which is 'evil'.

Richard Dawkins has demonstrated I think conclusively that a certain sense of absolute morality is inherrent in all of us and that sense of morality is independent of any beliefs or culture. He covers the point in depth with some hard science in one chapter of his book "The God Delusion".

Another key point to remember is when everything that is artificial is removed from Zen or from Buddhism then what remains is just a life being lived. It will not look like anything in particular. Not many people choose to take that last step and remove all trace of zen or release themselves from the Golden Chains.

Think of it as stages - in the early stages things are picked up because they are useful. In later stages things are dropped because they now hinder. How many things are picked and how many are dropped will depend on the individual.

At July 10, 2007, Blogger Jordan & The Tortoise said...

This may be on topic, The daily reading from the Buddha Vaccana.

191. Love is characterized as promoting the welfare of others. Its function is to desire welfare. It is manifested as the removal of annoyance. Its proximate cause is seeing the loveable-ness in beings. It succeeds when it makes ill-will subside, and it fails when it gives rise to selfish affection.
Compassion is characterized as promoting the removal of others' suffering. Its function is not bearing others' suffering. It is manifested as kindness. Its proximate cause is seeing helplessness in those overwhelmed by suffering. It succeeds when it makes cruelty subside, and it fails when it gives rise to sorrow.
Sympathetic joy is characterized as joy in the success of others. Its function is being free from envy. It is manifested as the elimination of aversion. Its proximate cause is seeing other beings' success. It succeeds when it makes aversion subside, and it fails when it gives rise to merriment.
Equanimity is characterized as promoting equipoise towards beings. Its function is to see the equality in beings. It is manifested as quieting like and dislike. Its proximate cause is seeing the ownership of deeds thus: "Beings are heirs to their deeds. Whose, if not theirs, is the choice by which they will become happy, or will be free from suffering, or will not fall away from the success they have reached?" It succeeds when it makes like and dislike subside, and it fails when it gives rise to the indifference of ignorance based on the household life.

Nothing new.
Be well and happy!

At July 17, 2007, Blogger Jinzang said...

Cultivating wisdom and love go hand in hand. You can't even say one wisdom leads to love or love to wisdom. Ultimately they're the same, just two sides of a coin. You can't say you feel love and compassion because of egolessness, because there is no "because" in enlightenment, just the natural expression of the what is and has always been.

At July 18, 2007, Blogger TedinAnacortes said...

Thanks for the post Justin.

The word "compassion" is from the Latin "com" -together, or, with and "passion" -feel suffering. That is to say, "suffering with" (the other)

So it seems to me that the more we "awaken" to our own "true nature" the more the barrier between "ourselves" and "the other" errodes.

In the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Buddha, upon his awakening exclaims, "How wonderful, all beings are the Tathagata. It is only their delusions and preoccupations that keep them from realizing the fact."

As your post (as well as the comments) testifies to, the realization of the fact is still being transmitted today.

Thanks again,

At July 22, 2007, Blogger jundo cohen said...

Love you all!

Gassho, Jundo

At July 23, 2007, Blogger Justin said...

Thanks for the thoughtful responses. I love you too! :)

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