Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Thank You All for your views on Zen teachings/teachers

I would like to thank everyone for posting their views concerning my last post here (--deleted--). Everyone has expressed ideas that have been helpful in seeing the issue with freshness.

Rather than responding to each comment, I would like to just give my own current thoughts on this issue (I say current because it is bound to change-again).

In the early days of my own practice and study, I spent a fair amount of time looking for a teacher, and "tried" a half dozen or so. Eventually, I did find one teacher that "worked" for me (though we "agreeably" disagreed in some areas). I also found a couple of teachers that became friends, rather than "teachers." Others, I came to respect as "authentic" teachers – whatever that means! Some, I found offensive for a number of reasons.

As a merchant marine I had lots of time for reading. I loved the Zen and Buddhist sutras, records, etc. But much of the "contemporary" teachings seemed to say things that directly contradicted the classic translations. Often I read "modern" teachers attributing teachings to the Zen masters like "Rinzai did this…" or "Dogen believed that…" or "Hakuin taught such and such…" And I would think "Where did they say that? I sure did not read it in their records…" Every time I had the chance for dokusan, or in public meetings, I would ask about particular discrepancies. Sometimes I got explanations that cleared things up. Most often, I found that they had no valid explanations.

All in all, I have found it good practice to "question" things I find trouble accepting. Also, I am personally grateful if someone points out a false or questionable teaching or teacher with some argument or evidence as to why I might want to look a little deeper before putting my trust into something.

As most of you know, Dogen’s teachings (or at least those records that are attributed to Dogen) have been especially helpful in my own practice and study on the Zen path. But I do not consider even these to be "authentic" teachings until I have actually "put them to the test" through actual implementation. Once I "try" them, and personally discover whether they "work" then I consider them valid. If not, I do not dismiss them, but they remain in the "possible" zone—perhaps I do not understand them, or the translation is not quite right, or whatever.
One of his teachings has been quite valuable to me in this regard. It has been to at least partially try to "evaluate" teachings by comparing them to the traditional teachings. As you may have seen my posting elsewhere:

Even before Dogen had traveled to China and resolved his quest to accomplish the "task of a lifetime," he realized that the authentic teachings of written texts were more valuable than inauthentic teachings of certified "Dharma heirs." In the Zuimonki Dogen explains how he came to realize this fact when he compared the teachings of his own "distinguished" title holding teachers to those of the "eminent Buddhists" of the past:

…I came to realize that they differed from what my teachers taught. What is more, I realized that thoughts such as mine, according to their treatises and biographies, were loathed by these people. Having contemplated the nature of the matter at last, I thought to myself I should have felt rather humbled by ancient sages and future good men and women instead of elated by the praise of despicable contemporaries… In view of such a realization, the holders of the title of Great Teacher (daishi) in this country seemed to me worthless, like earthen tiles, and my whole life was changed completely.
Zuimonki, V:8

To many people outside of the Buddhist community Dogen’s observation might seem like little more than common sense. Very few people, especially in the West, would even allow someone to repair their car simply because they possessed a certificate or title, much less trust them as their guide on the "great matter of life and death." Yet, I have witnessed many "Zen Centers" are filled with members that never question the credentials of a "Dharma Heir" whose title and/or certificate is granted by a single individual human being in an esoteric ritual of "mind to mind transmission."

The reasons for my "aversion" to some "teachers" is not so much because of "what" they did, but because of what they did and said "in the name of Zen." Like some of the "Christian" leaders, --Falwell, Robertson, Baker, and their ilk—I could care less what they thought, or believed or did in their own personal lives –I am a pretty extreme liberal—it is their "this is what God told me" suggestions, aimed only at exploiting their "followers"? "Students?" or whatever, for their own personal gain or agenda, and all in the name of religion.

People turn to "religion" for many reasons—but a large percentage of them look to religion because of difficulties, suffering, problems, fears, etc that they are experiencing in their lives—this was true in my early days. Hence, many of these people are vulnerable to predators that would exploit their fears, their pain and anguish simply to satisfy their own agendas of politics, prestige, power, money, sex, etc. This is simply one of those things I cannot seem to ignore. I may be overly sensetive to this, but when I smell something with a whiff of "shit" in it, I want to tell my friends, and those that may be suffering and looking for a genuine "way" to approach life, to be careful where they step...

Thanks again for all of your thoughtful comments…
Please take care,

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At April 23, 2008, Blogger Jordan said...

Glad you have a fresh view.

On teachers, I think that there was once a teaching, maybe one of the last teachings of a very special and revered teacher that said “Do not depend on others, be a lamp unto your self”

Sometimes teachers can be helpful, or some have been helpful to me on occasion, but the trainee has to do all the work.

I also tend to think that the term “Zen Master” to be a bit of a bad translation.
Generally , I think the term “Roshi” is better translated as “Old teacher.”
Even honorifics like Zenji just mean Zen teacher. And the term DaiShi or, ‘Silent Master” is a term givin only by the Emporer basically a political appointment. That one kind of ruffles my feathers since I am a proponent of the separation of church and state, but things were not that way in old Japan. I personally like the Japanese usage of “Bozo” or “Buso” which is a kind of a disrespectful term for a monk. I correct my wife’s friends who (upon seeing my shaved head and small shrine) ask if I am an O’Bousan (another honorific) by interjecting that I am just a Bozo! (Note that I am not formally ordained)

I enjoy asking questions too! It is always interesting to see what dose not get answered.

I smile…a lot more than is socially normal. Now people come to my office for no discernable reason. It is weird for me.

Poop makes good fertilizer, if it was not for all the poop in my life, I would have never become so wholeheartedly committed to practice. Politics, prestige, power, money, sex …Grist for the mill of mindful concentration. Or a comedian. Got to admit I have a bit of an aversion to the first four, and an attachment to the last one.

Take good care

At April 27, 2008, Blogger Stuart said...

Once I did a week-long group Zen retreat led by a respected Master. I put all my attention and energy into "What am I?" and after a number of days got an amazing experience of clarity. The Master had kind of pointed me in a direction and given me encouragement, but it's difficult or impossible for me to say whether he necessary to get that experience. Maybe my own efforts were all that mattered, and everything else was irrelevent.

BUT... in the remaining days of the retreat, after the big experience, the Master was hugely helpful in that he didn't feed my attachment to the special feelings of peace and freedom etc that I'd gotten. Instead, he constantly just pointed to clear awareness of each moment. Without his help, I could have become ever more stuck in ideas of having attained something special. On my own, I don't know if I could have begun to consider that even those most wonderful feelings and mind-states that arise in meditation... are clouds appearing and disappearing.



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